It is estimated that, in the year 2030, Europe will have 32% of the world market for UAM (Urban Air Mobility) services. The decisions that are being taken within the EU are clear to reduce the effects of pollution in our urban environments and in the year 2030 we will have more than 340 million citizens affected by pollution and traffic congestion. It is not surprising that a new mode of transport that provides intelligent, ecological and sustainable mobility and that can be complemented with other modes, is a great ally in providing greater social well-being. The UAM currently has enormous potential for growth and for responding to the specific needs of citizens and companies.

In addition to its sustainable component, the UAM introduces a new dimension to surface transport, moving from two-dimensional mobility to the integration of airspace as a new dimension, which greatly increases the possibilities of communication, especially in the congested environments such as urban and interurban areas.

There are many advances that are shaping a possible and real UAM. All these advances are focusing mostly on technological and production aspects, in addition to the incorporation of regulations that are giving shape to this new mobility. The costs of batteries and their capacities have advanced a lot in the last decade and great improvements are still expected to make it possible to have aircraft capable of responding to range and load capacity requirements. Guidance and control systems are also evolving to give more robustness and safety to operations. But, as I frequently comment, there is an intangible that requires that it be considered as vital for the future of the UAM. The new mobility is not a neutral phenomenon, unrelated to the effects and expectations of citizens, who will ultimately be the users and beneficiaries of this new mode of transport. In other words, a development of the UAM is not possible without taking into account its acceptance by society.

Recently the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) promulgated the development of a comprehensive study on the social acceptance of UAM operations throughout the European Union. The study was carried out by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company between November 2020 and April 2021. Some of the data and results of this work are revealing of how citizens interpret and see the integration into their lives of this new mobility.

To focus the aspects on which the study has been carried out, Urban Air Mobility has been defined as an air transport system for passengers and cargo in and around urban areas that can be implemented in Europe within three to five years, offering an ecological and fast transport.

The first result of the survey is that 83% of citizens see this new mode of transport as positive or very positive. A relevant aspect for the positive evaluation is the contribution of the UAM to certain beneficial uses for the community such as medical and emergency transport services. However, the most relevant obstacles that citizens appreciate are clear, which are materialized in safety, noise and visual impact, and in the infrastructures of the cities. A relevant aspect is that the acceptance threshold, in terms of security, is established in that the same perceived security that exists with current air transport is repeated. This circumstance must be a guide for regulators to develop regulations that integrate manned and unmanned aviation into a single system without lowering safety levels. It is also curious how the consideration of risks to this new mode is interpreted by citizens based on use. For example, in the case of use for parcel transport, acceptance is 56%, while if it is for the transport of people it is 70% if the aircraft has a pilot on board and 44% if it is fully autonomous.

In relation to noise, it should be mentioned that it is a totally subjective type of pollution in terms of the perception that citizens have. Given that currently there is still no reality where to establish consultations about its impact, work is being done to reduce noise levels in aircraft and these reductions will increase in the future, so it will always be a factor for improvement and therefore its impact will equally wax and wane over time.

One aspect that I believe should be taken into account is that any survey or market analysis on the UAM, which is carried out at this time, lacks perspectives on something known or existing, so the sure result presents biases that must be considered as margins of error in the conclusions. A factor What the authorities must introduce in their actions is to make society aware of the reality and advantages of this mobility, especially in the younger classes, since they will be the users of the future and those who will live with a new mobility fully integrated into their lives.

Development and experiences in the electric vehicle industry have also influenced the development of UAM in Europe. There are currently several European companies that are developing UAM aircraft in various stages of evolution, including a Spanish one, Umiles Group, and for the second part of this decade, Urban Air Mobility may be a reality in Europe.

We have not mentioned another aspect that is also vital for the future of the UAM, which is economic profitability. We leave this factor for a new blog.

Pablo Morera

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