Advanced Air Mobility: Ensuring the Future of Travel Today

Throughout history, one thing has always been consistent with transportation and urban planning: people don’t want to spend a lot of time commuting. Ancient Romans only lived within a mile and a half of the city center to keep their commute to around a 30-minute walk one-way.  Marchetti’s constant, realized in 1994, looks at cities over time and shows that, as transportation modes evolve and cities grow much larger, they are still designed so that commuters ideally face a commute of roughly one hour per day.

Today, as cities continue to face more congestion and longer commutes, we’re launching towards a future with Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). AAM is the future of air travel within and between urban and rural areas and is safe, sustainable and accessible for all. It could relieve traffic and allow people to live much further from their office, while still being out the door and at their work in about a half hour.

NASA is ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing the potential of AAM. In fact, the agency will soon be kicking off their AAM working groups which will bring together leaders from industry, government, and academia will be collaborating to make AAM– and the potential of this future commute – a reality.

Importantly, Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is a subset of AAM and focuses more on the specific routes that will take place within in and around city centers.

Earlier this year, AIA brought together prominent leaders in transportation and aviation for a UAM roundtable at Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020, where several key themes were developed that will likely be conversation drivers at AAM working groups moving forward:

  1. We can’t just focus on the vehicle: For AAM to be successful long-term, we must look at physical infrastructure (vertiports), digital infrastructure (traffic management solutions, cybersecurity, etc.), the airspace integration path for the technology, and establishing a robust supply chain. The vehicle is important, but if the rest of the pieces of the ecosystem are not developing in concert with each other, it will drastically limit the technology’s ability to become widespread.
  2. We must include all actors in the discussion: It is essential to ensure ongoing dialogue with diverse participants from industry, all levels of government, infrastructure companies, urban planners, and others. These conversations will be vital to achieving regulatory approvals, attracting investment, building a supply chain, attracting early users, addressing safety and environmental concerns, and garnering broad public acceptance.

These themes must align every step of the way to enable AAM and ensure tens of thousands of vehicles can operate simultaneously in cities across the world.

In 2020, NASA announced the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign aimed at taking this ecosystem approach across five to ten years, looking at all aspects of AAM and how it will integrate into the airspace and cities. NASA will use the campaign to collect critical data and allow for testing opportunities for manufacturers at all levels of maturity and provide the FAA with a clearer picture of how to make AAM a reality. More recently, NASA announced that they would be partnering with 17 companies on the AAM National Campaign including AIA members Bell, Joby Aviation, Uber, GE/Airxos and Boeing.

NASA understands the importance of the ensuring all parts of the ecosystem—vehicle, infrastructure, community, workforce and airspace—were given equal level of importance. This will be done starting with simulations and testing data and culminating with complex urban demonstrations currently planned for around 2026 touching on every level of this ecosystem. But the campaign can’t be successful without partnerships between industry, government, and localities working together to test operations in both urban and rural environments.

The AAM National Campaign is not focused on one-off operations, but rather on how these operations will reach scale. Once that happens, the mass public will be able to see the benefits of AAM, including connecting people and goods between, to, and within cities in ways that were never before possible.

AAM has the potential to not only change the way in which people commute, but also open new markets for cities and their workforce. Through looking at the ecosystem as a whole and including all actors from across industry and government into the discussion, our world can once again revolutionize and expand travel while keeping our commute times the same.