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FAA Unveils Initial Airspace Concept for AAM Operations

In a significant step toward integrating advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles into the national airspace system (NAS), the FAA recently unveiled its initial concept of operations (ConOps) proposal, outlining the phased deployment of AAM aircraft within carefully defined airspace corridors.

Developed in collaboration with NASA and other regulatory and industry stakeholders, ConOps 1.0 relies on dedicated airspace routes over metropolitan areas, within which AAM aircraft would operate under specific rules and procedures and be separated from other piloted aircraft. These corridors would be independent from other airspace classes, as well as from existing and future unmanned aircraft systems flying at or below 400 feet above ground level.

Heidi Williams, NBAA’s director of air traffic services and infrastructure, termed the proposal “one of the tools in the toolbox to integrate these emerging technologies into the airspace system.” She likened the proposed AAM corridors to similar, dedicated transition routes for VFR traffic through airspace over the Los Angeles and Phoenix metroplexes.

“We’ve often utilized different routes to integrate certain operations while maintaining separation from other traffic,” Williams said. “It makes sense to adopt a similar ‘rules of the road’ initiative for AAM.”

“It is imperative that the FAA continue to foster collaboration between the emerging AAM industry and the manned aircraft communities so that we do not inadvertently undo the progress we’ve made.”

Heidi Williams Director of Air Traffic Services and Infrastructure, NBAA

ConOps 1.0 applies a “crawl-walk-run” methodology to AAM operations, with initial flights performed under current airspace rules before deploying low numbers of piloted AAM vehicles within the defined corridors.

This strategy also supports a multi-stage path to AAM automation, assuming that early vehicles will be directly controlled by an onboard pilot. Later, the operator would assume a supervisory and monitoring role over automated systems in more advanced vehicles.

Ultimately, the operator will move from the aircraft to a remote ground station, from which they may monitor one or more fully-automated AAM vehicles, only intervening when necessary.

While supporting this initial proposal, Williams reiterated the need to carefully integrate AAM into existing airspace.

“As we continue moving to performance-based navigation and other technologies to gain efficiencies and improve safety for all users of the NAS, it is imperative that the FAA continue to foster collaboration between the emerging AAM industry and the manned aircraft communities so that we do not inadvertently undo the progress we’ve made,” she concluded.

Review the full FAA ConOps 1.0 document (PDF)

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