Oct. 24, 2019

Discussions about urban air mobility (UAM) and electrically powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft have dominated the forward-thinking 2019 NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas. While some urban air taxis appear nearly ready for flight, they all currently lack a key capability that many stakeholders believe is imperative to their success: the ability to fly autonomously, without human intervention. A panel of experts examined the reasons why.

Panelist Suresh Kannan, CEO of autonomy algorithm developer Nodein, noted autonomy should be viewed as a “spectrum,” ranging from Level One autonomy akin to current autopilot systems that still require a pilot monitoring, to full Level Five autonomous control.

“I think [Level Five] is a good level of autonomy we’d all like to get to,” he continued. “One of the reasons everyone is aspiring to full autonomy at some point is it is a key enabler to making this [UAM] industry profitable, and it could actually change the way we live in cities.”

“Autonomy is like raising a child,” added Mike Ingram, vice president and general manager for cockpit systems at Honeywell Aerospace. “You need to do everything for the child after they’re born, but as they grow, they observe the world around them and make decisions, to the point they become autonomous [as adults].”

Ingram compared this process to the evolution of modern aircraft. “We’ve built all these different controls over the years, sensors and high-rate processing capabilities. When all those come together to when an airplane can be given a command to go from point A to point B, without human intervention, that’s autonomy.”

While industry focus has primarily centered on autonomous applications for UAM and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), work is also underway for implementing autonomous functions in manned aircraft.

“We are focusing on two specific applications, single pilot operations and urban mobility,” said Cedric Cocaud, chief engineer at A3, the Silicon Valley-based innovation center for Airbus. “That is not only about putting sensors, computers and software onboard; it’s about the ecosystem around the vehicle, including ground infrastructure, the operator and the customer experience.”

To the latter point, moderator Charles Alcock with Aviation International News noted passengers may balk the first time they climb aboard a UAM and they don’t see “that pilot with a good head of gray hair, who you know has been through some experiences and has learned from them” at the controls of their aerial taxi.

“You always look for the human in the loop to gain trust in a system and who can take over in exceptional situations,” agreed Kannan. “While that may be true for our [older] generation, however, the current generation of millennials and younger generations I feel place more trust in the device.”

Cocaud emphasized that autonomous flight cannot be tackled with the mindset of “solving the big problem right away,” but rather in a measured fashion. “We have to think incrementally, a ‘crawl-walk-run’ approach, which is the typical way that the FAA wants to look at those problems.”

Another significant aspect to enabling autonomous flight is a term familiar to attendees at 2019 NBAA-BACE, and it’s one that is also in the developmental stages. “AI [artificial intelligence] is definitely an enabler for autonomy,” Cocaud said. “It is what will enable us to make the aircraft aware of its surroundings and take the proper decisions from there.”

To review more show highlights, visit:
NBAA-BACE Newsroom
NBAA-BACE Photo Galleries

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.

March/April 2024

FAA’s Top Airport Official Discusses Safety, AAM and Vertiports

With runway safety and electric aircraft platforms on the minds of so many business aviators, FAA Associate Administrator of Airports Shannetta R. Griffin, P.E. answers questions about recent close calls and the transformation toward advanced air mobility.
Read More

March 25, 2024

MEDIA ADVISORY: EBACE2024 Advanced Air Mobility Showcase Includes a ‘First’ on Event’s Airport Display

For the first time, this year’s European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) will showcase leading advanced air mobility companies both in the Palexpo exhibit hall and outdoors, with a model on the event’s aircraft display at Geneva Airport.
Read More

January 17, 2024

NBAA, Association Partners Voice Concerns with Aeronautical Activity Definition

NBAA, together with association partners, collaboratively submitted comments on the proposed changes to the FAA’s definition of aeronautical activity. The groups cautioned the FAA that proposed changes to the definition may have unintended consequences and create unnecessary complications.
Read More

Nov/Dec 2023

NBAA Encourages US Leadership in AAM Initiatives

Advanced air mobility leaders say the industry has reached a turning point, as the NBAA continues to work with the FAA and DOT to move the sector toward training and operations as soon as 2025.
Read More