Is there a role for aviation in urban and regional transport?

May. 17, 2021

SESAR researchers are investigating the role that aviation could potentially play in future urban and regional transport systems. The SESAR X-TEAM D2D project started in June 2020 and its main aim is to promote the role of aviation and especially ATM in delivering a more seamless travel experience for citizens and reaching the goal of 4-hr door-to-door travel, in a sustainable way, according to FlightPath 2050 vision and European Green Deal initiative.

Over the last 12 months, the project worked on the definition and description of crucial elements that will characterise the future in which the integrated metropolitan and regional transport would operate, taking into account 2025, 2035 and 2050 time horizons. The future of transport systems will be characterised by passengers inclusiveness, preservation of environment unconstrained but regulated access and exchange of private and public transport related data and implementation of a door-to-door paradigm for transport. The first project findings are clear: the future of transport depends on the digital integration of personal passengers’ preferences, such as convenience, ease, frequency and speed of service, as well as comprehensiveness and reliability. With the specific aim of considering passengers’ perspective, therefore, the project includes a Passengers Advisory Group that supports the project team in shaping the concept of operations of future multimodal door-to-door transport.

In terms of the air vehicles suitable for use in urban and regional transport systems, the scenarios point to the use of light aircraft, taking into account conventional configurations (e.g. aircraft represented by small aircraft transportation system (SATS) and short take-off and landing (STOL) categories). The scenarios also point to advances in air vehicles, drones, electric propulsion as well as the miniaturisation of jet engines (Jetpack), represented by vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and personal air transportation system (PATS) categories.

While researchers identified no new vehicle concepts which would represent potential to revolutionize urban and suburban surface transport on the horizon (road, rail, water), they did note two main emerging trends for all modes: electrification and electric propulsion as an enabler for future urban mobility and the automation of transport, especially a flexible and efficient means of mass public transport solutions.

To bring about a multimodal transport system, researchers underline the importance of investing in communication systems to enable the exchange of data between modes. This will be the main driver for making progress towards more efficient and sustainable transport in the future. Communication and digitalisation will allow for optimisation at the level of entire metropolitan transport ecosystem and will open the door for future inter- domain optimisation (i.e. optimisation of the entire door-to-door travel rather than of addressing only specific transport segments).

X-TEAM D2D also identified several possible barriers for the implementation of future transport systems:

  • Policy and strategy planning: Identification and definition of specifications of future innovative solutions and their potential benefits, as well as a thorough evaluation of possible related challenges. These are perquisites for the investment in and deployment necessary infrastructure for electric, automated cars or Urban Air Mobility;

  • Digitalisation: Upgrade of current management systems (like in case of local railroad transport network), and accompanying standards and regulations addressing future data collection, processing and sharing have to be defined. The digitalisation should cover not only transport but also regulations, enabling the future high-level management of complex transport ecosystem (algorithmic governance);

  • Hardware technology availability: Development of solutions enabling safe, reliable and efficient operations of autonomous vehicles, passenger unmanned drones (Electric vertical takeoff and landing- eVTOLs) and necessary ground infrastructures in changing and more and more demanding natural conditions;

  • Open access data collection, processing and sharing: real-time exchange data between operators and all interested parties is very important. Definition of rules on using private data is critical for the success of enabling demand forecasting.