Flying drones in cities is a significantly different task than flying drones over rural or uninhabited areas like farmland or wind farms. But the World Economic Forum is working to position itself as a leader in Urban Air Mobility, and it is using Los Angeles as its testing ground.
The World Economic Forum spent the greater part of 2020 working with the Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to study how drones can best operate in cities. Together, the three entities are developing what they call are “the building blocks of a policy road map for implementing Urban Air Mobility (UAM)” in the City of Angels.
And as part of that roadmap, the super group created what they call the “Principles of the Urban Sky,” a set of seven principles to help guide the creation of UAM policy in not just Los Angeles, but potentially any other city worldwide.
- Safety: Aircraft, air operators and personnel should be certified
- Sustainability: Drone use should not be pursued unless it can improve environmental outcomes
- Equity of access: While drones may operate as a premium priced service at the outset, providers should be able to outline a longer-term plan for affordable consumer pricing.
- Low noise: Community noise acceptance metrics should be co-created with stakeholders, including city planners, community associations, vehicle manufacturers, service providers and others.
- Multimodal connectivity: Drones should connect with existing forms of transport, ideally to reduce use of single occupancy vehicles for short or medium-distance trips.
- Local workforce development: Drones should create employment opportunities for the residents of cities and the surrounding regions in which there are operations.
- Purpose-driven data sharing: With data sharing, drones should allow for dynamic urban airspace usage and the operation of supportive infrastructure, like vertiports, in a more connected and efficient way.
The World Economic Forum said the 7 principles were generated from feedback gathered through direct interviews with leaders in the growing UAM space, workshops (including in-person and virtual) and research institutions.
Even today, relatively few drone use-cases have happened in cities. You might spot a drone flying over a city for, say, photography, but enterprise use cases are rare. Even consumer delivery offerings like Wing have operated in suburban areas.
But the economy as a whole could benefit if urban drones take off. For every one job directly needed for air transport, six jobs are generated indirectly, according to WEF data.
How does the FAA fit in to the World Economic Forum’s UAM principles?
The World Economic Forum was clear to acknowledge that the Federal Aviation Administration has the final word when it comes to drones flying in the U.S.
“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,” according to a statement from the WEF.
What’s more, the WEF said their work with the City of Los Angeles was done “in conjunction with NASA and the FAA.”
The World Ecnomic Forum is expected to release its completed UAM Policy Roadmap for Los Angeles later this month.