Task force: Fractured planning threatens roll out of advanced air mobility services

Divergent planning around noise modeling, infrastructure and FAA regulations could hamper industry, members say

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, National Harbor, Md. — A more concerted, organized national and international effort will be required for the advanced air mobility industry to achieve its ambitions of routinely delivering packages via drones and shuttling passengers around urban areas and regionally, said members of AIAA’s Advanced Air Mobility Task Force here Tuesday.

“We’ve all seen those images of an electric air taxi landing on a parking garage to drop off passengers and recharge. Well, we need to figure out now how to build those parking garages, build the charging infrastructure and how people get there,” said Virginia Stouffer, an aerospace consultant and co-chair of the AAM Task Force, during a session in which members summarized the findings from an initial series of internal deliberations.

The overall message was that planning for vertiports, charging stations and pilot training has been too localized, resulting in “stovepiped” efforts, as several members put it, and that has led to poor communications and confusion. As for the aircraft designs, NASA and FAA have been crafting methods to evaluate them, including their noise profiles, but Stouffer said faster progress is needed.

“We need a forum where we bring everyone together, and AIAA is the right place for that,” she said, saying the institute could write standards, for example, and work with FAA to develop certification policies.

Stouffer and other members of the task force announced the establishment of an initial series of subgroups that will follow up on the task force findings.

One of these subgroups, the Aeronautics Certification Task Force, planned to hold its first meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday at SciTech under the leadership of Ming Chang, AIAA’s Aeronautics Domain lead and a retired senior director of flight technologies at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in California.

Chang said there are widespread concerns in the industry that FAA may require AAM pilots who fly largely automated air taxis to have the same type of training that commercial airline pilots must have, which is 1,500 hours. Using airline-rated pilots will hamper growth due to the cost of such training and the scarcity of such pilots, he said.

He also said an international standard is needed. “We want to do the same thing for AAM or regional air mobility that we’ve achieved in commercial airline traffic, so if you are an AAM operator in Washington, D.C., you can go to Mexico City and basically operate AAM in the same way,” Chang told me after the meeting.

Another subgroup, yet to be named, will address commercial drone operations and the possibility of centralized droneports — facilities that could support multiple delivery companies or other drone services. This droneport group will be led by Gokhan Inalhan, a professor of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, who plans to set up a droneport there.

“Urban planners are probably not too excited about UPS having one drone facility, Walmart having another, Amazon yet another — multiple droneports in a city, drones flying around disparate locations without getting a handle on the volume of traffic,” Stouffer said.

Another subgroup will tackle multimodal planning — how to prepare cities and regions for aircraft that may be able to land and pick up passengers or packages in parking lots or open fields. That effort will be led by Husni Idris, an aerospace research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

Stouffer said she’s particularly interested in coordinating with companies and organizations that are already working on elements of the AAM challenge.

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Task force: Fractured planning threatens roll out of advanced air mobility services