Aachen in the west of Germany is stepping up plans to include eVTOL aircraft in its public transportation network as officials look to deal with road congestion and poor connections for local residents and visitors. The city is working with nearby communities in neighboring Belgium and the Netherlands to explore the potential for an urban air mobility (UAM) network that could include Maastricht (17 miles away), Liege (30 miles), Hasselt (44 miles), and Heerlen (12 miles).
In a webinar last week that was organized by air traffic management agency Eurocontrol, Mirijam Böhme, Aachen’s UAM project lead, explained how the work is partly being coordinated through the "smart city" initiatives of the Oecher Lab network, which is backed by the government of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region. Earlier this month, Aachen joined other German cities in signing a memorandum of understanding for a partnership backed by the federal government’s Ministry for Transport and Digitization.
According to Böhme, who is working on a Ph.D. in political science, Aachen faces common 21st-century urban challenges, such as a growing population, shortage of living space and parking (worsened by gentrification), and poor transport links from outlying areas. It is trying to expand and refine public transportation options in a way that is environmentally sustainable and provides practical connections between various mobility modes.
One example she gave of the challenges is that demand for public transportation increases in the winter months. Acknowledging the uncertainty around how eVTOL aircraft will cope with icing conditions, she indicated that it will be necessary to have arrangements in place to quickly offer other options for travelers, implying that Aachen city officials expect to work closely with air taxi operators.
“Reducing the number of cars on our streets would free up space for other modes of transportation, and we want there to be complete fluidity in how people would book rides,” said Böhme. “Our citizens want user-orientated solutions and they also desire emissions-free mobility. Through a sharing economy, we hope to have both a green and individualized solution.”
Working with the other cities in the Netherlands and Belgium, Aachen officials are forecasting traffic patterns for both short-haul eVTOL rides and potentially longer intra-regional trips in eSTOL fixed-wing aircraft. They are exploring the potential to use three small airports in the region that are both underutilized and conveniently located.
“These give us options for connecting more remote rural areas [around the cities] with the more urban areas without putting more traffic on the roads,” explained Böhme. She said that the Aachen urban air mobility team and their counterparts in the other European cities are also looking into using drones for cargo transportation and also medical use cases for new electric aircraft.
Meanwhile, in Southern Europe, officials in the Italian city of Venice are also pressing plans to roll out advanced air mobility services. Gino Baldi, director for terminal area operations at Marco Polo Venice Airport, told the Eurocontrol webinar that the local airport authority SAVE is aiming to install vertiports in time for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in the resort of Cortina and wants to be ready to support larger-scale urban air mobility by 2030. Since 2020, it has been cooperating with Italian civil aviation agency ENAC in a UAM working group.