Sept. 5, 2020

The advanced air mobility (AAM) sector offers the prospect of a convenient, readily available and affordable alternative to traditional ground-based transportation. However, as a recent NBAA News Hour considered, for this emerging industry to reach its fullest potential it must gain the unequivocal support and trust of the general public.

Moderated by industry veteran and Vice Chair of NBAA’s Emerging Technologies Committee Paul McDuffee, the News Hour gathered experts from across the AAM sector to consider some of the technical and social issues that the industry must address to gain the public’s confidence.

“It’s not quite as simple as saying these vehicles are safe, that they are going through an extremely rigorous certification process or that we are part of an aviation system that has produced the safest form of transportation that exists. It is a question of trust,” said Anna Mracek Dietrich, co-executive director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI). “It’s tempting to fall into the statistics of engineering and talk of certification, the FAA and the systems that we have in place. Those are fantastic, and I want people to understand them, but as an industry, we need to build trust in these aircraft and not just convey an abstract concept of safety.”

Former FAA Deputy Administrator and current head of Global Policy at the Urban Air Mobility Division of Hyundai Motor Group, Mike Whitaker, agreed. “The public is skeptical. When you are driving a car you are in control, but that control is lost in an airplane. We have to prove that we are worthy of the public’s trust,” he said.

“The expectation is that we are going to be as safe as catching an airline flight. That is an incredibly high bar, but if we do not meet that level of safety this industry is going to be stifled,” Whittaker noted, adding that “by staying focused on safety and proving that we’ve got enough checks and balances and backup plans and redundancies we can achieve a level of safety that’s going to be acceptable to the general public.”

Security also is a concern for the public, and while some AAM stakeholders see the benefits of designing a security system specifically for this emerging technology, Shawn Hall, chief commercial officer at Signature Aviation believes the public’s confidence in proven and established security providers will benefit the AAM industry.

“In my view, for now, we should leverage the people who have a direct skill in security and security technology versus trying to grow something. Now, could we help facilitate that? Absolutely. We do that now in a few locations here in the United States, but we have taken the tact that you leverage the people who are professionals and then support that service,” said Hall.

The AAM industry effort to build public confidence will be boosted by a genuine enthusiasm for the potential benefits of AAM, said Selena Shilad, executive director for the Alliance for Aviation Across America. “When we talk about AAM, about 50% of the people are excited about these types of technologies,” she said “Of course, there are concerns about safety and noise, but we can turn those challenges into opportunities to communicate about the possibilities that exist with this technology.”

This enthusiasm is particularly evident in students, said Uber Air’s Launch Manager Megan Prichard, who has been involved in educational outreach programs at elementary schools through to universities. “For most people, this seems like the Jetsons, like a faraway technology. But third graders see this as an eventuality and as something they want to be part of.”