Italy has released a plan for the adoption of large-scale commercial advanced air mobility (AAM) — including eVTOL air taxi and drone operations — by 2030.
Described as a “roadmap,” the comprehensive plan covers a time period from 2021 to 2030. It was prepared by a working group convened in July 2020, under the auspices of a 2019 agreement between the president of the Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) and the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization. Stakeholders from industry, government, and academia took part in the effort, with strategic support provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and its Strategy& unit.
The working group identified approximately 140 other ongoing private and public sector AAM initiatives and 12 benchmark countries across which to compare public sector priorities for AAM. Among these were eight European Union members which, like Italy, are participants in the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC) and share a stated goal of establishing “strategic partnerships between industry and European cities to develop the urban systems and infrastructures of tomorrow.”
EIP SCC’s shared priorities are reflected throughout the roadmap, particularly in its consideration of potential environmental gains associated with the adoption of AAM. While setting forth a goal of quantifying the net reduction in automobile traffic and CO2 emissions offered by AAM, the roadmap also recognizes the “visual pollution” that would be created by what could ultimately be tens of thousands of simultaneous AAM operations.
The roadmap calls for studies to assess the acoustic and visual impact of AAM operations, and identifies noise, visual, and space disruption along with safety, privacy, jobs, and environmental impact as key concerns when integrating eVTOL aircraft into communities.
Specifying that the broader concept of AAM incorporates urban air mobility (UAM), the working group considered over 40 concepts of use (CONUSEs) before narrowing its focus to four for initial implementation: air taxi, medical and goods delivery, inspections and mapping, and agricultural support.
The roadmap identifies six “competence groups” common to each of the focus areas: airspace system design and implementation, community integration, business model, air traffic and fleet operations, individual vehicle management, and vehicle development and production.
The plan for adoption of AAM in Italy is biphasic, with the first phase having been completed with the publication of the roadmap. The second phase, understood as including the development of strategic and business plans to launch AAM activities, is currently underway and divided into three stages or “waves” of increasing complexity.
The first wave of implementation is defined as “Fix the Basics” and includes such steps as the design of a comprehensive communication strategy to promote public understanding of AAM, the launch of a national digital permitting platform, and clarification of technical specifications for drone pads and vertiports.
Under the second wave, titled “Prepare the Ambition,” training needs will be identified, aircraft type certification and vertiport specifications will be addressed in cooperation with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) working groups, and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) protocols will be established for urban environments.
In the final wave, the roadmap will “Realize the Ambition” by 2030 as training and infrastructure needs are continuously reassessed within an emerging regulatory space, airspace is fully integrated, cybersecurity concerns are addressed, and large-scale commercial AAM operations are in place in major urban centers.
The roadmap calls for initial demonstrations of AAM to begin in 2023 at dedicated sites including the Grottaglie airport in Taranto province and Torino’s DoraLab, Italy’s first site dedicated to the testing of drone technology in an urban environment. By 2026, Italy expects to see intermediate testing and preliminary commercial use in temporary corridors through controlled airspace in cities including Rome, Milan, and Venice, each of which was represented in the working group. Public demonstrations are also expected at high-visibility public events such as the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milano/Cortina.
The roadmap does not include an estimate of total program costs. It does acknowledge that funding for realizing program goals is limited, noting that existing stakeholder resources are only sufficient to cover the initial stages of the second wave of implementation. Some national public funding may be available through the reallocation of residual ministry funds and allocations are anticipated in future budgets, but these amounts are unspecified.
Noting that “AAM topics have gained wide recognition from the EU Commission,” the AAM working group anticipates that funding from the European Union may become available in the upcoming programming periods. However, the roadmap ultimately specifies that private infrastructure investment funds “could support the deployment of AAM infrastructure in the long run.”
Italy’s roadmap includes a caveat that it is “a living document” to which additional activities will be added as regulation, technology, and testing advance and new possibilities and concerns are identified. The working group anticipates input from individuals, communities, and a growing body of stakeholders as testing continues. And, in a holistic and community-centered approach to the adoption of AAM, it acknowledges the need for continuous engagement of communities as testing progresses.