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Recap: Transformation: Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

On December 19, 2023, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center and FAA held the third discussion of a seven-part thought leadership series titled Transformation: Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations. The talk focused on FAA and NASA’s ongoing work to move innovative ideas and technologies forward that will enable the safe integration of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) into the existing National Airspace System (NAS).

U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne D. Aylward hosted the session, welcomed  attendees  and introduced the expert speakers, including Paul Fontaine, Assistant Administrator for NextGen at FAA; Robert Pearce, Assistant Administrator for Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) at NASA; and Steve Bradford, Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Architecture and NextGen Air Transportation Development at FAA.

NextGen: Moving Innovative Ideas Forward 

Through the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) initiative, FAA aims to modernize the current air traffic infrastructure in communications, navigation, surveillance, automation, and information management to increase the safety, efficiency, capacity, and resiliency of the aviation sector. As FAA’s Assistant Administrator for NextGen, Paul Fontaine is responsible for providing strategic direction and oversight, modernizing air transportation, conducting aviation research, and supporting the overall advancement of aviation, including the introduction of AAM.

Fontaine provided a perspective  on NextGen’s role as FAA looks to integrate emerging, innovative technologies like AAM, “NextGen is really responsible for moving innovative ideas and technologies through a developmental phase to implementation and helping enable the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the word,” he remarked.” Fontaine continued, “NextGen is really the focal point on Advanced Air Mobility, helping to organize and coordinate a wide array of activities across the FAA that will be needed to support the development and implementation of an ecosystem which will be needed to support Advanced Air Mobility.”

NASA's Research Helps Validate AAM Concepts and Requirements and Explore Use Cases

The focus of NASA’s AAM research is to change the way people and goods move within and between cities, communities, and rural areas. NASA envisions an air transportation system of the future where AAM will support low-altitude passenger transport, efficient cargo delivery, public service capabilities, improved search and rescue operations, and fighting wildfires in remote areas.

Robert Pearce, NASA’s Assistant Administrator for ARMD, spoke on NASA’s work in this area and the integration of AAM into flight operations. “This is enormously exciting. It’s got a lot of use cases, everything from Urban Air Mobility…it could be air taxi-type operations, it could be first-responder-type operations, it could be inter-regional operations,” he remarked.

In applying these innovative concepts and operations, Pearce noted, “We’re taking some of these concepts and some of this technology and seeing if we can better support wildfire operations and create more efficient, safer, and more effective aircraft operations as we’re fighting wildfires.”

Over the past several years, NASA has worked with FAA, industry, and stakeholders to develop concepts of operations and innovative approaches to solve the many challenges associated with Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and AAM. Pearce noted, “We’ve built out an entire roadmap between now and the end of 2030 that will have a series of demonstrations that bring technologies, bring architecture together and actually demonstrate it in an incremental way that will help validate requirements, validate concepts, validate technologies, and that will all bring the industry readiness up for operation.”

FAA Collaborates with Stakeholders to Streamline NAS Operations

The future NAS will look quite different from today and will include diverse types of vehicles and aircraft with many different operations and service capabilities. While FAA will still manage and oversee the airspace, the agency will work with stakeholders and traffic management services to share information and streamline operations in the NAS.

FAA’s Chief Scientific and Technical Advisor for Architecture and NextGen Air Transportation Development Steve Bradford touched on this complex and collaborative relationship. “We envision that we will end up with two different worlds, or three different worlds, or four different worlds. We’ll have the traditional air traffic management system where air traffic provides separation services, the traffic flow, the advisories, and develop the infrastructure for the communications, navigation, and surveillance,” he remarked.

Bradford continued, “We also see the need for extensible traffic management services. What I mentioned about the ATM, that’s the people flying at 60,000 feet and above, the urban traffic management—the 400 feet and below, and then the AAM/UAM. Where we see the infrastructure and the operations being managed through third parties. It’ll be complimentary to ATC; it’ll provide the scalability and the flexibility and the near-term agility we need to support these operations.”


View the event recording for the full discussion.


Up Next

The next event in the series, Environmentally Responsible Advanced Air Mobility, will take place on Wednesday, January 17, 2024 at 1:00 p.m. ET. This session will feature Stephen Rizzi, PhD, Senior Researcher for Aeronautics at NASA Langley Research Center and Christoper Roof, Chief of the Environmental Measurement and Modeling Division at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center. Julie Marks, Acting Executive Director, Office of Environment and Energy at FAA 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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