Oct. 23, 2019

The future of business aviation is unquestionably on display throughout 2019 NBAA-BACE, but many still have questions about what that will entail and what it will mean for those working in the industry. A standing-room-only session at the NBAA-BACE Innovation Zone examined two emerging, game-changing technologies – artificial intelligence (AI) and urban air mobility (UAM) – that will drive this future.

Panelist Ed Crump, whose 30 years of work in the technology field includes founding the Amazon Echo personal assistant program, now serves as co-founder and CEO of AirProxima, which applies AI solutions to business aviation logistics. He emphasized that despite the industry’s current focus on machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence, those terms really don’t tell the full story of how they may ultimately be incorporated into business aviation and other industries.

“Humans can do so many amazing things, but we aren’t necessarily skilled at doing the same thing over and over again,” he explained to attendees at the session titled “Bring on the Future: AI, Urban Mobility and Business Aviation.” “We invent things and imagine how to create automated systems to remove the [tasks] we currently do that don’t make us better, so we can do other things. That’s augmented intelligence – the ability to take what is currently happening to make humans more efficient and give them better and faster decision-making skills.”

Such thinking also applies to UAM, with many companies working toward autonomous operation of electrically powered, vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles to transport people and cargo across congested cities. The prospect of such aircraft flying overhead without a human pilot at the controls may understandably seem dangerous, but it could actually pose a safety advantage.

“I think the statistic is still about 80% of [aviation] accidents are caused by pilot error,” said Kate Fraser, head of safety for autonomous UAM developer Joby Aviation, “but most of the general public aren’t sitting at home reading NTSB reports. So, it’s not only that we are making the technology incredibly safe and incredibly redundant; we’re also doing outreach and public acceptance on why this technology is so important and why it’s better.”

Fraser added that such technologies will be absolutely essential for UAM to be successful. “When you want to get to that far-out vision of a fully scaled urban air mobility system with thousands of aircraft flying, fully integrated in the airspace in a way that makes sense that’s not taxing our existing air traffic control system, you must have AI and other visionary solutions to achieve this fully integrated future,” she said.

Moderator Jessica McClintock with FuelerLinx then polled audience members on when they expect to see eVTOL and UAM in commercial operations. While answers ranged from 1-2 years to as far out as 2043, most respondents expect urban air mobility vehicles to be a presence as soon as 2025 – a realistic timeframe, panelists agreed, although the path ahead still has several issues to resolve on the technological and regulatory fronts.

“I’m really passionate about applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to things that we’re already doing today,” Crump said. “I’ve worked in the aviation industry with both very large and very small operators trying to apply AI and ML to what they do really well – they’re experts in what they do. And yet making that leap is the hard part.”

Crump was recently joined by McClintock for an NBAA Flight Plan podcast on this topic. Listen to the “Embracing AI for Business Aviation” podcast now.

To review more show highlights and images of the dedicated urban air mobility display at NBAA-BACE, visit:

Any person who attends an NBAA convention, conference, seminar or other program grants permission to NBAA, its employees and agents (collectively "NBAA") to record his or her visual/audio images, including, but not limited to, photographs, digital images, voices, sound or video recordings, audio clips, or accompanying written descriptions, and, without notifying such person, to use his or her name and such images for any purpose of NBAA, including advertisements for NBAA and its programs.

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