Thanks to technological innovation, a new mobility solution—urban air mobility—is on the brink of taking to the skies above cities to offer a sustainable complement to ground transportation. But are cities and city inhabitants ready to welcome such a dramatic shift in their mobility mix? According to Vassilis Agouridas, Senior Manager Strategic Innovation at Airbus, the successful integration of urban air mobility hinges on co-creation. Vassilis is responsible for leading, on behalf of Airbus, the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Initiative of the European Innovation Partnerships on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), supported by the European Commission. The programme focuses on fostering co-creation among industry, regulators, cities, citizens and other stakeholders to find mobility solutions that deliver on the full spectrum of sustainability—environmental, economic and social. 

Public actors have to take responsibility: every one of us, whether as a citizen or institution, is a valuable partner who holds the power to express what we want technology to do for us.

Vassilis Agouridas, Strategic Innovation Senior Manager, Airbus

5 questions with Vassilis Agouridas

Q. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing cities today?

Mobility is a crucial part of human life. Throughout history, we have worked to create and improve mobility solutions, while ensuring they serve user needs. I think we’re now facing a time during which we’re completely rethinking our mobility options to serve society’s needs. Urban air mobility thus represents an exciting complement to ground-based city transportation: it’s based on zero-emission electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) technology. But—and this is the main challenge—we must ensure it’s integrated effectively and efficiently into the urban mobility mix.

Q. How can cities help to create a sustainable future for our planet?

Firstly, it’s important to emphasise that sustainability isn’t just about the environmental aspect: the social and economic aspects are of equal importance. Cities can be a driving force for positive change by engaging city inhabitants, and enabling all stakeholders to create and integrate solutions together. Public actors have to take responsibility: every one of us, whether as a citizen or institution, is a valuable partner who holds the power to express what we want technology to do for us.

Q. How does mobility—and specifically urban air mobility—hold one of the critical keys to creating sustainable, more liveable cities?

Urban air mobility can add another dimension to the way we move. I believe it’s a logical step: we walk, we ride, we drive and we fly. By taking urban and peri-urban transport into the sky, urban air mobility can contribute to relieving ground congestion in the context of optimising the overall urban mobility ecosystem in a clean and efficient way.  

Q. You’re leading the UAM initiative of the EIP-SCC on behalf of Airbus. What are some of the challenges and opportunities?

The UAM Initiative offers Europe the chance to mobilise and engage with all stakeholders and shape solutions that work best for everyone.

Naturally, this presents several significant challenges. As of today, 42 different cities and regions have joined the UAM initiative, each of which has its own drivers and needs. Ultimately, we’ve created a community to represent the voice of cities in the emerging sector of urban air mobility, one that aims to share, interact and learn from one another. Then there’s the technology aspect: of course, it’s a key enabler in terms of capacity, safety and security, but we have to make sure that urban air mobility brings a positive societal shift and thus is embraced by society.  

Q. For you, what is needed to make sure urban air mobility benefits citizens and achieves maximum societal benefits?   

We need to focus concurrently, with the same level of priority in terms of engagement and investment, on the three aspects of sustainability I mentioned earlier—environmental, economic and social. I think the social factor is often seen as a consequence, but it has to be considered early on. That means two-way interaction from the beginning. Citizens and society at large should be empowered to co-create: they should embrace, not just accept.   

Vassilis Agouridas is a speaker at the Urban Futures Global Conference, from May 22 to 24 in Oslo, Norway. He will speak about how urban air mobility offers us the opportunity to create a social shift in the way we live, work and travel, and how this shift can provide numerous opportunities to make cities more liveable for its citizens. See the UFGC speaker programme here