U.S. prepares for new entrants in the national airspace

The Aerospace Traffic Management Integration Committee monitors, evaluates and seeks to influence the direction of ATM technologies with a focus on efficiency, public safety and national security.

This year witnessed continuing growth in activities contributing to the complexity of U.S. airspace management. Further progress in programs to develop and certify electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft in the U.S. was evident in May as Joby Aviation, based in California, received its Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate from FAA. The certificate cleared Joby to begin test flights with fixed-wing aircraft to refine operators for its eVTOL aircraft, planned to begin passenger service in 2025. Other companies in the U.S. and Europe, including California-based Archer Aviation and Germany-based Lilium, are aggressively pursuing this market.

Many are addressing the challenges of integrating more aircraft into the airspace, including North Dakota and its statewide unoccupied aircraft systems network, Vantis. The program’s Mission and Network Operations Center opened in June. It’s a pioneer in the deployment of an integrated UAS specific infrastructure buildout in the U.S. that will enable the beyond visual line of sight capability desperately sought by the UAS community.

With increased access to UAS comes the security issue of rogue vehicles in the national airspace. The year has brought technology for safety and security of that airspace to the forefront. Counter-UAS systems have been deployed worldwide principally for military use in the past but now also as protection for critical infrastructure, airports, sports stadiums and significant event venues. In April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate awarded a $259 million counter-UAS threat contract for research and development of technologies to protect critical infrastructure.

In June, FAA and the wireless industry agreed to mitigation steps to address interference originating from the deployment of 5G technology to susceptible aircraft until the end of the year, by which time most affected aircraft are to be retrofitted.

There were a record 71 FAA-licensed space launches through early November, with continued growth forecast. In response to the rising number of launches and the ongoing need to maintain situational awareness and airspace management during launch and reentry, in June, FAA and industry established the Space Collaborative Decision Making Space Operations Committee to consider how to mitigate the impact of space operations on the NAS.

Increased emphasis on space situational awareness resulted in both the NOAA announcement in February of its Open Architecture Data Repository and the White House announcement in May of its National Orbital Debris Implementation Plan, released in July.

Stimulated by the U.S. Department of Defense’s release of previously classified images in May regarding aspects of unidentified aerial phenomena and their potential impact on national security as well as aviation safety, the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act directed the department to study and report on UAPs to Congress, leading to the establishment of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office to identify, investigate, research and report unidentified space and airborne — as well as submerged and trans-medium — objects. In October, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate announced the start of a nine-month independent study team to focus on the application of scientific tools of discovery regarding the study of UAPs.

The national emergence from covid-19 and attendant rapid traffic growth exposed several concerns for National Airspace System operations. Personnel shortfalls in airline staffing including pilots and cabin crews, FAA staffing shortages, weather delays and the impact of crew flight time limits resulted in flight cancellations and delays, while insufficient ground service personnel made luggage handling for departures and arrivals problematic at many airports. For example, on a Sunday early in August, 950 flights were canceled and almost 8,000 were delayed; 657 flights had been canceled the day before.  

Contributor: Charles Keegan

U.S. prepares for new entrants in the national airspace