The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Europe's SESAR Backs Urban Air Mobility Demonstrations

The European Union (EU) this week launched a major collaboration to expand the scope for advanced air mobility initiatives. The new Air Mobility Urban–Large Experimental Demonstrations (AMU-LED) program is being partly funded by the EU-backed Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) body as part of the Horizon 2020 innovation scheme.

The primary focus of AMU-LED is to demonstrate how autonomous aircraft can be safely operated in urban environments as part of wider SESAR work on the integration of drones in the so-called U-Space. Over the next two years, the international project team will prepare for flight demonstrations to be conducted in 2022 at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Cranfield in the UK. Work will focus on applications for eVTOL aircraft including passenger and cargo transportation, police surveillance, and emergency medical support.

Consulting group Everis is coordinating the AMU-LED collaboration, which also involves 16 other companies and institutions from Europe and the U.S. These include Airbus, AirHub (drone operations software), Altitude Angel (unmanned traffic management systems), ANRA Technologies, Boeing Research & Technology-Europe, FADA-CATEC (aerospace research and development), Cranfield University, EHang, ENAIRE (air traffic management provider), Gemeente Amsterdam (city government), INECO (transportation consultant), ITG, Jeppesen (flight support), NLR (aerospace research agency), Space53 (unmanned systems test facilities), and Tecnalia (research and development support).

Planned exercises are set to include more than 100 flight hours involving several unmanned aerial systems. These will include EHang’s EH216 eVTOL aircraft.

The project is intended to help prove the case for using autonomous aircraft to reduce road congestion and make public transportation more efficient and less environmentally harmful. It will also provide information for the European Union Aviation Safety Agency as it builds a regulatory framework for urban air mobility.

ANRA Technologies will provide the AMU-LED team with its SmartSkies family of software platforms for advanced airspace management and simulation. These will be used to support the planned live and simulated eVTOL flight demonstrations.

China-based EHang, which has a Europe-based sister company in aerospace group FACC, is already engaged in urban air mobility pilot projects in three cities in Austria and Spain. It also holds a flight permit for eVTOL trial operations from authorities in Norway.

Interestingly, no Europe-based eVTOL aircraft developers have yet been named as participants in the AMU-LED collaboration. The continent has several startups making progress with this sector, including prominent players such as Volocopter and Lilium (both in Germany) and Vertical Aerospace in the UK.