A Future Built on Trust; Overcoming Societal Acceptance Barriers to Future Air Mobility
Future air mobility organisations are developing innovative and disruptive technologies and services, at a pace and magnitude not experienced since the beginning of aviation. These transformations are happening against a backdrop of social empowerment through the use of social media, Big Data and continuous 24-hour news cycles.
Current approaches to societal acceptance for aviation are based on regulatory compliance and are often fragmented across multiple regulatory and planning-related approvals processes. To ensure the safe and efficient integration of Drones and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) within the aviation ecosystem, these processes will require adaptation to address societal acceptance needs for new modes of transport, innovative technologies, and new types of infrastructure within urban environments and beyond.
It is key for organisations who are planning to introduce a change or innovation to the industry to ensure that society is involved throughout the process. Public engagement and subsequent acceptance are key parts of any commercial strategy and are even more important when the approach is disruptive.
Why is there a need for societal acceptance?
According to a consumer survey conducted by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), there is an increasing trend of dissatisfaction in relation to the customer experience within commercial aviation. There is an apparent lack of understanding between what the customer wants and what aviation organisations are offering. In addition, it is often not immediately evident to the public and industry stakeholders whether proposed innovations will help or hinder them.
From this feedback, there appears to be a lack of engagement and consultation with stakeholders to inform them about how proposed changes will impact them. The public has a right to know about impacts on wider society and whether their day-to-day life will be affected by a new scheme. Transparency is key to social engagement . Innovations with no existing public engagement framework require information to be provided to the public to explain the implications and how they will be affected.
Challenges towards acceptance
There are several key themes that need to be addressed to facilitate the societal acceptance of the introduction of innovative technologies and supporting infrastructure into the aviation ecosystem:
Safety: There are concerns about the safety of Drone and AAM operations, especially as they become more autonomous. The operating landscape is shifting into urban and other built-up areas. In addition, existing airspace users now have a new disruptor within the airspace and their safety risks need to be considered as they are no longer able to rely on traditional methods such as “see and avoid.” In urban air mobility, vehicles will be flying at low altitudes and close to people and buildings, meaning accidents may have a significant impact on communities. The public needs to have confidence that uncrewed, autonomous, and other new operations are safe. Wider stakeholder impacts on existing operations and the interaction with new technology needs to be assessed, communicated, and mitigated.
Security: There are concerns about the potential for Drone and AAM operations to be used for malicious purposes, such as terrorism or smuggling. These vehicles could be used to transport weapons or explosives, or to carry out surveillance. Other considerations include the hacking and interference of systems.
Noise: Drone and AAM operations can be noisy, especially when operating at a low altitude. A study by Cranfield University found that maximum noise levels of drones at around 100ft ranged from 50 to 60 decibels (dBA), similar to the typical sound levels in an office or restaurant. Noise abatement procedures are particularly important for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, which typically produce more noise than traditional systems. This noise could be a nuisance to those living or working in urban areas and may impact health, sleep quality and quality of life.
Environmental impact: Whilst many Drone and AAM operations are powered by a battery (acknowledging this may be hydrogen fuelled in the future), the wider environmental considerations of the battery lifecycle, charging capability and supporting infrastructure do need to be considered. In addition, the interaction of new disruptive technology with existing conventional systems and its environmental impact (through re-routing etc) should be assessed. These technologies could disrupt wildlife and biodiversity, contribute to air pollution through rerouting of conventional aircraft users, impact tranquillity of green spaces and urban areas, all which need to be looked at by those established or entering the aviation ecosystem.
Privacy: There are concerns about the potential for Drone and AAM operations to invade people’s privacy, especially as urban air mobility operations will fly over built-up areas. Some specific privacy issues include surveillance, intrusion, data collection and disruption.
Regulation: The airspace for Drone and AAM operations is still being developed, with ever-evolving regulatory landscape challenges. The lag between regulation and exponential improvements in technology needs to be addressed to enable these vehicles to sustainably operate in harmony with one another.
Sustainable operations: Disruptors within the industry are developing innovative solutions to redefine existing ground and air operations. For instance, logistics organisations are using drones to provide consumers with their packages, instead of the traditional method of road travel. Similarly, VTOL organisations are working tirelessly on air taxis to enter the urban market. The fundamental question that needs to be asked by organisations is: have we identified a need or want by society for our technology or infrastructure? Does this work for the public?
Accessibility and affordability: one of the key concerns within a report conducted by Ipsos, was around the accessibility of future technology; related to those living with disabilities and in terms of socio-economic accessibility. There are worries about the affordability of the technologies; particularly surrounding technology that could be considered ‘luxury’ services which would displace investment in existing transportation services. Learning and building on the public’s views will enable better understanding of how the social benefits of new technologies might be made accessible to all members of the public.
Facilitating public and social readiness
Here are some of the activities that address these challenges and promote the societal acceptance of Drone and AAM technology:
- Identify and engage with societal stakeholders early; understand their wants, needs, concerns, and views on changes to the aviation ecosystem.
- Listen and consider the opinions of the public and stakeholders.
- Conduct public education campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of Drone and AAM technology and address concerns about safety and security, privacy, noise, and environmental impacts.
- Provide clear, objective, and transparent information about how stakeholders could be affected by the change, that is accessible to all and based on evidence.
- Develop and implement safety standards that are comparable to those for traditional aircraft.
- Invest in research and development of quiet and efficient Drone and AAM vehicles.
- Make Drone and AAM technology affordable and accessible to a wide range of people to meet their needs. This could be achieved by increasing their use and reliability, resulting in scaled and more widely accepted operations. In addition, it is important to ensure that industry knows what society needs (see first bullet point).
- Work with regulators to develop a clear and transparent regulatory framework for Drone and AAM technology.
Ebeni’s Future Air Mobility team supports clients in their societal acceptance endeavours to ensure arrangements are in place to engage with stakeholder groups, and that such groups are provided unbiased, objective information. This will enable stakeholders to understand the impacts to themselves and to wider society and will create a platform for them to communicate their needs and wants. Ebeni’s Future Air Mobility team has the experience, resources, and industry connections to support our clients through public engagement, stakeholder management and societal acceptance processes to support a future where Drone and AAM technology is a safe, efficient, and sustainable part of our transportation system.
 CAP 1900: Social licence to operate, provides guidance on how innovators can build in social engagement as a key part of their development strategy.