6 Steps Towards the Future of Urban Air Mobility

Last week, we shared a glimpse into the future of Urban Air Mobility and the potential solutions it provides for our country’s outdated and crumbling infrastructure, increasingly long morning commutes, and transportation challenges faced by those who are elderly or disabled.

Full integration of UAM is not an “if,” but a “when.” To get to this future, there are six major steps we need to take, particularly if America intends to continue its global leadership in this area.

1. Continue to modernize America’s infrastructure

If we are determined to lead the world and bring about a future where UAM is prevalent, we must continue to modernize the airspace’s critical infrastructure, along with roads, transit systems, airports, and waterways.

2. Work on a regulatory path forward for UAM

Because there is no regulatory framework currently in place for Urban Air Mobility, establishing one is vital for the future of transportation. Creating a path forward will take collaboration among industry, communities, and all levels of government to navigate today’s challenging regulatory environment. Elected officials have taken action to ease the regulatory burden on businesses, but the Trump Administration’s “one in, two out” rule makes it difficult for any agency to release new regulations. New regulations are needed to usher new technology into the marketplace and assist in addressing the nation’s surface transportation gridlock.

3. Ensure that technology is not stifled by regulations

Part 23 is the best way to ensure that technology is not stifled by regulations. The Part 23 rewrite modernized the way that aircraft are certified by allowing aircraft manufacturers to use consensus standards to meet airworthiness standards. This ensures that aircraft certification will not only be cheaper, but possible for new types of aircraft.

Any standards developed for new technologies should establish a level of performance that must be achieved for both the operations of the aircraft and the design. This would allow industry to continue to innovate, without being constrained by regulations in place.

The FAA’s operational standards should also be performance-based to ensure that companies are able to use their individual design and technology, while meeting necessary requirements. The FAA’s aviation standards were developed before UAM was even an idea, which is why it is hard to fit UAM into any specific FAA box as it exists today.

Future Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) rulemakings will be critical to ensuring operations of UAM as well, especially the rules on “Remote ID,” “Operations Over People,” and “Beyond Visual line of Sight.” These will set standards that enable UAS and UAM to operate as safely and securely as possible.

4. Integration among UTM and ATM systems

There is only one airspace to share, regardless of the height at which an aircraft – manned or unmanned – operates. Once UAM is fully operational, aircraft will need to constantly broach the airspace dividing line between Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) and Air Traffic Management (ATM) control systems (currently at 400 feet of altitude). Full integration of the two systems is the only way to ensure the safety of the aerospace, pilots, and passengers.

5. Certainty on spectrum allocations

Regardless of the design or external features, aircraft of the future will require spectrum to operate – not to mention some form of traditional aviation safety equipment. This equipment operates on internationally designated spectrum bands that allow for interference-free communications, and with new technologies hitting the market – including an abundance of 5G mobile devices – the risk of interference may be growing.

The aviation industry is excited about the promise of 5G, but it must be rolled out in a safe way for both traditional and emerging forms of aviation.

For example, the possibility of the 3.7-4.2 GHz spectrum band being reallocated for 5G is concerning because of the high potential for interference with aircraft radio altimeters. This critical aviation system, that operates in the adjacent 4.2-4.4 GHz frequency band, is vital to providing altitude data for safe landings not only for every commercial aircraft, but also for many helicopters and private aircraft. Before any reallocation of spectrum, the FCC and industry must work together to test the impacts of the new devices on both that specific band and any adjacent spectrum band.

6. Collaboration among all stakeholders

Industry will continue to work with the federal government to set the standards and rules that will govern operations. However, local governments, the communities they serve, and their partners also have a key role in that process.

Cities and states will need to update their infrastructure to allow for takeoffs and landings of the aircraft. Buildings, parking garages, and other surfaces could be repurposed to allow for UAM operations, but only with the active involvement of local governments. Before there is widescale operations of UAM, cities also will need to work with industry and focus on developing emergency landing sites and other safety procedures. To take advantage of these emerging technologies, states, cities, and counties must begin these analyses in their local areas. While wide-spread UAM flights may be a few years away, cities and states must begin preparing for them now.

The future of American infrastructure is coming – and sooner than you think—through air taxis that provide an alternative to our commuter rails and rush hour; through new lines of ambulances that arrive faster and more safely because they can fly over the traffic; and through long-distance air transportation that connects rural and urban communities like never before.

Our industry’s mission is to imagine, to innovate, and to create the next generation of aerospace technology that will build a better world for the American people. Whether through Urban Air Mobility or any of the other incredible innovations coming from the aerospace and defense industry, we look forward to building on this essential work in the decades to come.