NBAA-BACE Session Shows the ‘Promise of AAM’ Is Nearing Reality
Oct. 18, 2023
Business aviation stakeholders have heard about the promise of advanced air mobility (AAM) and eVTOL vehicles for years. With AAM now performing testing and certification flights around the globe, the future appears closer than many may think.
Wisk, a Boeing subsidiary, is undergoing certification testing of its sixth generation AAM vehicle. “That’s the technical side, but we’re also super-focused on airspace integration [and] community engagement,” said Dan Dalton, Wisk’s vice president of global partnerships.
“How do we ensure that the airspace is ready to receive some of these autonomous aircraft?” he asked during an education session at the 2023 NBAA business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE). “And how do you tie everything that’s happening at the national level to the individual end user who’s actually going to hop onto these [aircraft] and hop off with them on a daily basis?”
Volocopter GmbH has demonstrated its 2X eVTOL vehicle at many national and international events, including during NBAA-BACE. Oliver Reinhardt, chief risk and certification officer for the company, said it’s important that people witness AAM operations to dispel fears and assumptions about the technology.
“The public initially had crazy things in their minds, scenes from ‘The Fifth Element’ with flying cars everywhere around vertical highways, but we’re doing something completely different,” he said. “We asked people before we were flying, ‘What do you think about AAM?’ Generally, the percentage was positive, but a little bit careful. Then we did our flights and asked the same questions afterwards, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive.”
That said, challenges remain. AAM operations must demonstrate the ability to safely interact with other aircraft. Infrastructure is another key focus area for the industry, including concerns about whether already-stressed regional power grids will be able to support large-scale AAM operations.
Dan Elwell, an advisory board member for Joby, pointed to legislation like SB 100 in California, which is intended to scale up renewable energy production to offset the gap. “I don’t view infrastructure as a big hurdle for us,” he added. “There are thousands of heliports around the U.S., and we’re also going to be able to use large parking lots. We should be able to get back to rooftop operations as long as we have a charging capability.”
Many industry stakeholders aim to begin small-scale commercial AAM operations by 2025, and Volocopter hopes to fly even sooner, during the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. To make that happen, FAA Air Traffic Organization COO Tim Arel noted that AAM must not only safely operate among other aircraft, but also such new entities as commercial space providers.
“Our approach is [to provide] equitable access to the airspace. As all that comes together, our concern is how everyone will play together,” he said. “So, getting to scale is going to be our biggest challenge in our airspace.”
Arel pointed to the agency’s “Innovate28” initiative as a practical roadmap toward that goal.
“There are a lot of incremental tests and coordination efforts that we’re going to do around the country, all aimed toward a fully integrated system of all players in the LA basin by [the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in] 2028,” he said.
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