June 14, 2019
Uber Elevate Summit 2019, held June 12 in Washington, DC, highlighted innovations in the emerging electrically powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and urban air mobility (UAM) markets. NBAA sponsored the event in its ongoing efforts to ensure safe integration of emerging technology and optimized utilization of new technology for business aviation purposes.
“There is a lot of energy for urban air mobility, which will be complementary to business aviation,” said Mike Nichols, CAM, NBAA’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation. “The past several years have focused on the exciting new technologies that are under development, and the time is right for industry collaboration to work towards the safe integration of UAM vehicles as we prepare to launch this industry.”
Eric Allison, head of Aviation Programs at Uber, opened the conference with a focus on efficiencies, saying Uber is working to make cities smarter while acknowledging “there’s an upper bound to what we can do on the ground.” Allison expects UAM to provide time efficiencies, and due to the shared nature of the transportation and electronic propulsion systems, it also will allow riders in cities to travel faster in a more environmentally friendly manner.
Safe implementation will be paramount to the success of the eVTOL and UAM segments. Many presenters encouraged attendees to build safety into this segment of the industry from the beginning.
Several presenters emphasized the need for collaboration and engagement. The industry must work with all levels of government – federal, state and local – and engage the public at early stages to ensure government approval as well as community acceptance. Many aircraft certification, operational and workforce issues will need to be addressed in partnership with regulatory and legislative parties to work towards a successful launch to the industry.
Global engagement is also critical and Mike Romanowski, FAA’s director of policy and innovation division, said the U.S. can be a leader in the global adoption of eVTOL in a UAM environment by advocating for a robust safety framework around the world.
To that end, the eVTOL and UAM market will build on existing aviation segments, including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and even traditional Part 135 charter operations. For example, UberCopter is a partnership between Uber and HeliFlight in New York City. This service provides transportation from downtown New York City to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) as part of a multi-modal transportation experience.
Uber made a number of announcements at its summit regarding new partners in aircraft manufacturing, infrastructure and finance. Among the announcements is a new pilot project city – Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne joins the pilot cities of Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth. Signature Flight Support will manage Uber’s Skyport operations and safety functions worldwide.