The future of the skies is in development today, as next-generation aviation technologies are tested, certified and piloted for commercial operations in coming years. A different type of aircraft – one better suited to urban transport – is emerging. This reflects a mix of novel designs (combining vertical take-off-and-landing configurations with distributed propulsion), improvements in alternative energy sources, and greater quality and availability of digital connectivity.
The introduction of new mobility segments, commercial intra-regional as well as inter-regional aerial transport, will require new processes and tools based on open and data-driven decision-making to operate and evaluate transport systems. Importantly, these new processes must also involve local governments alongside regional, national and even international agencies to develop the policy foundation for integration of transport in different modes – land, sea and air.
2028According to NASA, UAM is likely to be a commercially viable market for air metro services by 2028, assuming the regulations and policies are in place to accommodate it.
1:6For every one job directly needed for air transport, six jobs are generated indirectly.
Traditionally, government oversight might have emerged in reaction to new transport modes. When innovative technologies disrupt the status quo, policy-makers and governments are often limited by time and resources to react. It is critical for policy-makers to be well appraised of emerging technological innovation by working with leading industry actors and emerging start-ups; together, stakeholders can develop a framework that aligns with the interests of society.
The policy-making framework for these new aviation technologies must be principles-based, ensuring that the framework can evolve during the multi-phased, iterative innovation process. By engaging with vehicle manufacturers, service providers, infrastructure developers, community-based organizations, academics and government stakeholders, public officials can anticipate and even enable new ideas as they create policy and regulations to support the roll-out of new technologies in the public interest to benefit the many, rather than the few.
Designing the future of urban air mobility in Los Angeles today
Over the past nine months, the World Economic Forum and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office have worked together, collaborating with Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) as the transport agency advances parallel technical research. They convened a multidisciplinary working group to develop the building blocks of a policy road map for implementing Urban Air Mobility (UAM) in Los Angeles.
With a view towards sharing this road map with cities worldwide, the collaboration between the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office and the Forum has been coordinated with technical and operational efforts led by LADOT in conjunction with United States national governmental agencies: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). What is clear is that parallel strategic and operational planning are necessary for any city preparing for the roll-out of UAM and that this preparation must start well ahead of the first commercial deployments.
These efforts have led to the creation of “Principles of the Urban Sky”, which the community believes are fundamentally important to the adoption and long-term success of UAM. These principles should help guide the creation of a UAM policy road map in the City of Los Angeles and can serve to orient policy-making efforts in other cities throughout the world.
These principles are representative of feedback from public and private interests gathered through direct interviews with leaders in the growing UAM space, workshops (including in-person and virtual) as well as on-going research with leading institutions worldwide.
These principles are inclusive of national airspace authorities, who regulate and ensure the safety of the airspace, while recognizing the unique and increased need for input from state and local governments with respect to a new transport mode purpose-built for urban markets.
Local land use compatibility and multimodal transport network integration, including planning for noise sensitivity and equitable access, will be critical tools for local governments to ensure outcomes that support liveable communities and benefit society as UAM networks launch and scale up.
Cities hold a vital stewardship role in the public trust and have a responsibility to translate community priorities into policy direction that determines the uses of a new mode of transport. Local government shares a role in facilitating conversations between community members and the private sector, providing a structured forum for transparent and accessible decision-making to advance collective goals, which include fostering a vibrant economy with inclusive benefits.
These “Principles of the Urban Sky” aim to guide local policy-making and can be adapted as transport and societal expectations continue to evolve.
It is our hope that these principles will serve as the basis for similar efforts around the world and for further collaboration across partner cities embracing UAM in their own contexts.
In coming months, the City of Los Angeles and the Forum will release a series of thought leadership pieces, which describe the ongoing collaboration to develop key components of an UAM policy road map. The next piece will illustrate what activities and milestones are anticipated within each distinct phase of UAM development, deployment and public participation in Los Angeles. Future articles will consider the key investments in physical and social infrastructure necessary to get UAM off the ground, logical roles and responsibilities for leading actors in this space, potential funding mechanisms and the impact of UAM on the city’s diverse workforce and job creation efforts.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about drones?
The World Economic Forum is partnering with governments and companies to create flexible regulations that allow drones to be manufactured and used in various ways to help society and the economy.
Drones can do many wonderful things, but their upsides are often overshadowed by concerns about privacy, collisions and other potential dangers. To make matters worse, government regulations have not been able to keep up with the speed of technological innovation.
In 2017 the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution teamed up with the Government of Rwanda to draft the world’s first framework for governing drones at scale. Using a performance-based approach that set minimum safety requirements instead of equipment specifications, this innovative regulatory framework gave drone manufacturers the flexibility to design and test different types of drones. These drones have delivered life-saving vaccines, conducted agricultural land surveys, inspected infrastructure and had many other socially beneficial uses in Rwanda.
Today, the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is working with governments and companies in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America to co-design and pilot agile policies that bring all the social and economic benefits of drone technology while minimizing its risks.
As the work of this partnership continues, these principles and the insights from the thought leadership pieces will also be used to inform the consideration of proposals, deployment of demonstration projects and local government resource allocation. It is our hope that these principles will serve as the basis for similar efforts around the world and for further collaboration across partner cities embracing UAM in their own contexts.