Oct. 20, 2022

What is already a highly diverse mix of operations in the National Airspace System (NAS) will soon be joined by advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). An Innovation Zone session, moderated by journalist Lisa Stark, at the 2022 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) examined how to support these new aircraft, and ensure the NAS remains available for all users.

“The model we are looking at is not the traditional approach of taking taxpayer dollars to [implement] these systems,” said Col. Nathan Diller, director of U.S. Air Force AFWERX. “This is a space where over 80% of the research and development today is happening within the commercial market.”

Parimal “P.K.” Kopardekar, director of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Institute, termed the move toward this next generation airspace system, “A paradigm shift from management by clearance to management by exception.”

Work conducted by NASA on unmanned traffic management for drones, within certain airspace limitations and reliant on third-party information services and collaborative sharing of flight data, will help lay the groundwork to enable AAM integration.

“It has taken a lot of time to get to this point,” Kopardekar continued. “We had to build common application protocol interfaces, so operators talk to each other in the same basic language and share the information.”

“Collaboration is at the base of this process,” agreed FAA Chief Operating Officer Tim Arel. “It’s not just the regulator or the operator of the airspace saying you can or you can’t [fly there]; it’s the innovators saying we have a different way of complying with traditional regulations written for traditional aircraft.”

While the FAA remains committed to meeting the industry’s timeframe to introduce limited AAM in operations in 2024, Arel admitted “we’re somewhere between crawling and walking” in adapting the NAS to permit fully integrated operations.

“We haven’t made nearly as much progress in that as we probably should have,” added Dr. John S. Langford III, CEO of Electra.aero, “and certainly would have liked [by now] when this process really kicked off back in December 2013.”

That said, gradual progress toward AAM integration may not be as prohibitive as feared. “It’s very easy to sort of just lump AAM and drones all in one big bucket, but they are distinct,” added Stéphane Fymat, UAM/UAS vice president and general manager at Honeywell. “Most [AAM] aircraft are going to start with pilots on board the foreseeable future; at the same time, all of them [ultimately intend] to operate without a pilot on board.”

“There’s time to develop air traffic management (ATM) systems for the future while a lot of these aircraft are early in the development phase,” agreed Martin Peryea, CEO of AAM developer Jaunt. “These aircraft will go through a typical development certification program and will be able to operate under existing Part 135 rules, very similar to [current] rotorcraft. The FAA will have systems in place.”

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