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Recap: Kickoff of New Thought Leadership Series on Advanced Air Mobility

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Kickoff of New Thought Leadership Series on Advanced Air Mobility 

On November 30, 2023, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and Federal Aviation Administration, in collaboration with the Office of the Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, kicked off the first of a seven-part thought leadership series titled Up, Up and Away: Innovations in Advanced Air Mobility. Remarks and key insights were shared by members of U.S. DOT senior leadership and an expert in the field of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and emerging aviation technologies.  

U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne D. Aylward opened the session by welcoming guests and U.S. DOT leadership including Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy Carlos Monje; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology and Chief Scientist Dr. Robert Hampshire; FAA Deputy Administrator Katie Thomson; FAA Assistant Administrator for Policy, International Affairs, and Environment Laurence Wildgoose; and guest speaker Elan Head, Senior Editor at The Air Current.  

U.S. DOT’s National Strategy for Advanced Air Mobility 

In October 2022, President Biden signed into law the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act (the Act) and directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Advanced Air Mobility Interagency Working Group (AAM IWG). The purpose of the AAM IWG is to plan for and coordinate efforts to integrate advanced air mobility aircraft into the national airspace system, particularly passenger carrying aircraft, in order to grow new transportation options, amplify economic activity and jobs, advance environmental sustainability and new technologies, and support emergency preparedness and competitiveness. 

Carlos Monje addressed work underway to develop a national AAM strategy. “Our job within the Office of the Secretary is to lead the congressionally mandated interagency working group on AAM, which is examining all of the wraparound issues beyond safety that impact AAM so we can mitigate barriers to deployment and address the negative externalities that this revolution could bring.” Monje continued, “Many of the communities we have talked to are looking to AAM as a possible means to address inequities in transportation access, bring jobs to underserved communities, or deliver medical services to areas ambulances just can’t reach in time. Some of these communities are urban, and some rural—but they can each benefit from AAM in different ways.”  

Robert Hampshire underscored U.S. DOT’s vision for the future around the topic of AAM, “We all know that in transportation, transformative change doesn’t happen spontaneously, and the future isn’t simply manifested. It requires leadership, policy direction, and hard work from across the ecosystem.” Hampshire addressed the prominent role that government plays–federal, state, and local–in operating and regulating the domain. He continued, “We as a nation have this great opportunity to be global leaders and set a clear national strategy for the safe deployment of AAM. Just like our first flight or our first steps on the moon, this is a huge next step in the new era of aviation.”  

A New Aviation Era for FAA 

FAA is taking the lead in establishing an operational AAM ecosystem at key locations in the United States and is working to safely and responsibly launch this innovative era in aviation. FAA is committed to ensuring the safe and efficient integration of AAM into existing national and international airspace systems that will serve the public in the coming decades.  

Flying is safer than any other mode of transportation in history, and FAA continues to work closely with industry partners and the aviation community to ensure safety is always a top priority. As AAM is introduced into the nation’s cities, suburbs, and underserved rural communities, safety will again be FAA’s main focus.  

Katie Thomson reiterated this priority, “Today, FAA is hard at work to advance AAM integration in ways that are safe, efficient, equitable and sustainable. Our unique role is to ensure all aviation safety aspects of AAM integration are met, including operating rules, aircraft certification, and pilot certification.” Thomson continued, “We’re involved in every aspect of supporting AAM flights. This includes the aircraft itself, the framework for operations, access to the airspace, operator training, infrastructure development, environmental impacts and community engagement.”  

Laurence Wildgoose reinforced FAA’s position, “In discussing the integration of AAM into our national airspace system, we understand that there are tremendous opportunities ahead; however, we must proceed with a steadfast commitment to safety.” As FAA looks to grow new transportation options for the U.S. through AAM, equity will be an important factor to consider for federal, state, and local leaders. Wildgoose touched on this point when he said, “AAM also provides another opportunity to look at inequities across our transportation systems and communities. So, we will engage underserved and underrepresented populations...and ensure that we address adverse community impacts and health effects.” 

Look to the Past to Set Up AAM for Success 

Keynote speaker Elan Head provided a historical perspective on the evolution of naval airships and drew comparisons to the challenges facing AAM and the adoption of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft today. She identified three key areas necessary for AAM success: 1) customer buy-in, 2) infrastructure networks, and 3) ensuring safety.  

Looking to the future, eVTOLs will rely on scalable infrastructure to be successful in urban and rural settings. “Commercial airship companies were never able to create the critical mass they needed to become economically viable,” remarked Head. “Fortunately for eVTOL developers, eVTOLs need much less infrastructure than do airships,” she continued. This is critically important for AAM to realize its full economic potential in the coming years. “But, the economic success of urban air mobility will still hinge on reaching a critical mass of passengers and vertiports,” continued Head. “If communities don’t allow that network of vertiports to be built, urban air mobility will never scale.” 

In closing, Head offered her insights and wishes for the future of AAM, “One hundred years from now, [we] could be telling a very different story hopefully, in a world that has built on today’s innovations to solve the great existential challenge of our time. I want this technology to succeed in a way that benefits everyone. To that end, I hope these lessons from the past can help.”  

 

View the event recording for the full discussion.

 

The next event in the series, Safety and Advanced Air Mobility, will be held Thursday, December 7, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. ET. This session will feature three speakers from the private sector: Cindy Comer, Director of Certification from Wisk; Blain Newton, COO at Beta and Eric Allison, Head of Product at Joby Aviation. Derek Morgan, Chief Operations Manager for Aircraft Certification Engagement with the FAA’s Aviation Safety Organization will provide opening remarks. 

*The views of the speakers may not represent the views of U.S. DOT. 

 

About the U.S. DOT Volpe Center  

Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to transform transportation for all.  

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