In a previous article on Connected Aviation Today our editorial team heard from Boe Svatek, Leader of Strategic Programs for UAS, and Andrew Donnelly, Senior Marketing Manager, both at Collins Aerospace, about how advancements in Urban Air Mobility (UAM) solutions will revolutionize our cities by opening their airspace to new and innovative aircraft capable of automating difficult tasks, transforming logistics, and even reshaping how residents travel.
In that conversation, both Svatek and Donnelly expressed their belief that the UAM solutions of the future will provide a new era of accessibility for both air travelers and for commerce. But what are the next steps towards realizing that potential? When can people expect aircraft to become a part of their daily commutes or package deliveries? How long before UAM solutions are leveraged to make jobs safer?
We asked Svatek and Donnelly those questions in the second half of our discussion:
CAT Editors: Looking ahead, what can people expect from UAM? Is there a timeline that you can share with our audience as far as when they can expect UAM solutions? What form will they take when they arrive?
Andrew Donnelly: It’s incredibly difficult to predict when we’ll see mass adoption and deployment of UAM aircraft and solutions into the airspace of today’s cities and metropolitan areas. While we can see promising Uncrewed Aircraft System (UAS) platforms like electric vertical takeoff and liftoff (eVTOL) aircraft close-in on airworthiness certifications, many of these aircraft and use cases still require authorization to operate. And that’s not something that aircraft OEMs can solve on their own.
“There are still technology gaps and challenges to overcome, and years of policy, legislation, and certification processes that have to be navigated for UAM solutions to become a fixture in urban airspace.”— Boe Svatek
Given the complex nature of deploying UAM, it’s understandable why government and industry stakeholders, research academies and regulatory bodies are taking a measured and careful approach to its certifications, authorizations and standards. In crowded urban areas, a safety failure would have significant, serious repercussions. Because of that, the aviation industry is still working through approaches to airspace management, UAS traffic management and flight operations authorizations before UAM flights can be rolled out.
Boe Svatek: There are still technology gaps and challenges to overcome, and years of policy, legislation, and certification processes that have to be navigated for UAM solutions to become a fixture in urban airspace. One of the most important things for the aviation industry to consider are infrastructure solutions for UAM that enable air transport options for as many people as possible.
The FAA has indicated that they want to see more affordable means of transportation by air. And that is something that Collins Aerospace has made a foundational part of our work on UAM. We view UAM solutions as an innovative way to decrease the space between areas in more congested locations and to connect surrounding rural and suburban areas with urban ones.
While we don’t know for sure what the future of UAM looks like, we know that it will revolve around increasing accessibility.
Cat Editors: Can you expand on that concept of connecting rural, suburban, and urban spaces using UAM solutions?
Andrew Donnelly: As this market matures, I believe we will see an opportunity to leverage the business aviation model for air-taxi flights in, out, and within urban environments. Utilizing future aircraft and technologies such as eVTOL and flight path automation, we can enable safe and efficient transportation in areas traditionally overwhelmed with congested roadways and limited air-transport by helicopter. So, it stands to reason that advanced air mobility concepts such as air-taxis could have a massive impact on how people traverse and interact with their environment.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) notes that 80 percent of its business aviation flights are to airports in small towns and communities. That is likely because most communities are not directly serviced by large airports. If smaller aircraft can make use of those community airfields or executive airports, that creates a huge new market for commerce and travel.
“With eVTOLs you don’t need runways at all. Rather, the notion of vertiports … would be all that’s needed for a community to be more connected to the wider world. ”— Andrew Donnelly
Another figure that the NBAA shared is that business aviation serves more than 10 times the number of U.S. airports than commercial airlines do. But when you think about it, those flights are with fixed-wing aircraft that require traditional runways. With eVTOLs you don’t need runways at all. Rather, the notion of vertiports – which is effectively a helicopter pad reimagined – would be all that’s needed for a community to be more connected to the wider world.
CAT Editors: You’ve mentioned that there has been a collaboration between the industry and government regulators, can you share how that partnership has been working and where you and your government partners are at with regards to the next steps?
Boe Svatek: the aviation industry is working to define what the future of UAM solutions will look like. Simultaneously, transportation authorities around the world are providing us with information on the regulatory and certification requirements that UAM will face before its certified and deployed.
And, while we’ve referenced this market as being relatively immature, we have been having active discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European SESAR joint undertaking for U-Space and other international bodies that regulate this market for quite a while. There have been regulatory conversations and policy activities underway for years that are critical to helping make this transformation possible.
Much like how we are iterating on our solutions, the government has been iterating on its regulations. As new solutions are realized, they adjust their thinking and regulatory guidance. We have seen inspiring cooperation between the FAA and NASA, domestically, and we have seen similar cooperation on the international stage with flight regulators around the world.
The next step is for both the innovators in the aviation industry and the regulators that manage it to figure out what needs to be accomplished before certification. That process will take time, but regulators have been – and will continue to be – a critical partner in this process. In fact, I would say that progress in UAM is really starting to accelerate.
CAT Editors: What can the aviation industry do to help accelerate the development of UAM? Is there anything that Collins is doing specifically to support UAM solutions?
Boe Svatek: I believe that the industry is moving as fast as the current level of investment provides. There are a lot of venture capital firms that have been getting involved in UAM, so like Andy said, when we see some of the regulations and certifications come down there will likely be a lot of people entering the space and bringing with them more money for further investments.
As for Collins specifically, our primary focus is on command-and-control Data Link and flight operations services. . We are investing in solutions that allow UAM operators to generate IFR flight plans and aircraft to deconflict via standards such as DO-365. We are providing solutions to identify and track aircraft from the ground as well as tools to monitor airspace coordination between multiple Providers of UAS Services (PSU). We want to build that infrastructure to organically allow multiple UAM operators and service providers to function together seamlessly.
“We are working to make this future a reality because UAM solutions are exactly that, the future.”— Boe Svatek
With regards to the whole industry, we need to work on community outreach. Right now, most people are unaware of the benefits that UAM solutions can deliver to our cities and metro areas. We need to get people more involved and get more communities advocating for the governments to prioritize UAM.
We need to be in the communities that would benefit the most from UAM solutions and tell them how this new innovative market can make their lives better, and how it can give them more opportunity and access. That will be one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal as we look toward the future.
CAT Editors: Some eVTOL aircraft OEMs are just around the corner from having their aircraft certified to fly. However, UAM airspace and regulatory changes seem to be years away. Is there a path for these kinds of flights to start operating sooner within the airspace, operational, and traffic management systems employed today?
Boe Svatek: There are a number of solutions in development that align with current traffic management approaches. We’re utilizing these existing approaches because there is no other guidance available to the industry, as of right now. Also, we feel that whatever systems are introduced in the future for eVTOL and other future flight aircraft, they will be based on the existing regulatory guidance.
So, there is a path for eVTOL to operate in today’s existing airspace. However, and perhaps more importantly, the aviation industry is also preparing for the future.
As UAM evolves and as the FAA updates its guidance and regulations, we can fill in coverage and hybridize these aircraft so that they can evolve with the market. This transformation can lay the groundwork for other aircraft as well. The hope is that we can seamlessly transition crewed and uncrewed UAM solutions into the airspace and eventually apply those practices to larger aircraft as well.
We are working to make this future a reality because UAM solutions are exactly that, the future. While we still have a lot of ground to cover, the potential for UAM to radically improve the lives of people around the world is immense.
To learn more about how Collins Aerospace is supporting UAM Solutions, click here.