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Monday, February 6, 2023

FAA’s Nolen Addresses National Airspace Safety in the Era of Advanced Air Mobility

On August 3, Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen spoke about the potential of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) at a White House Summit, and emphasized the need to address the risks if the technology is to live up to its potential.

“Through AAM, we could potentially see electric powered air taxis land in your city, and transport you across town or maybe to the airport in just minutes, whereas the same trip by car would have taken much longer. AAM aircraft could also be used to transport large cargo, or help with firefighting, air ambulance and search & rescue operations.

“And AAM could eventually be a more equitable form of transportation, as it has the potential to connect underserved and rural communities with larger cities. This could be especially beneficial for communities that are reliant on aviation, like in Alaska. And because these vehicles would be electric-powered, they could offer a more sustainable method of transportation.”

Nolen said the technology is “on its way” and disclosed that two companies expect to earn FAA certification of their AAM vehicles as early as 2024. 

As these vehicles are being developed, the FAA is working to establish operational rules, pilot training standards, and how these new vehicles can best be integrated into the national airspace system.

“We’re modifying our regulatory approach to enable powered lift operations including the certification of powered-lift vehicles and the pilots who operate them. Longer term, the agency plans to continue to develop permanent regulations to safely enable powered-lift operations and pilot training and certification.

“AAM also has unique qualities compared to traditional aviation. So we must also think differently. For example, aircraft pilots are traditionally required to communicate with air traffic controllers. But what if the software that enables an autonomous vehicle to remain aloft also allows it to safely separate itself from other aircraft?

“As with all aspects of aviation that came before, this new era will be an evolution, where advancement to the next step will be based on safety. As safety regulators, it is the job of the FAA and its counterparts around the world to help ensure that innovation doesn’t come at the expense of safety. We must see safety as an enabler, because nothing will ground these innovations faster than incidents or accidents.

“And just like with drones, we are learning about and addressing local community concerns about AAM operations in and around metropolitan areas. For this effort, we’re engaging with state, local, and tribal governments and communities. 

“One of our initiatives is working with NASA on a national campaign to help communities learn about AAM. We’ve been testing AAM concepts, and collecting data in areas like automated flight plan communications, BVLOS, traffic avoidance, trajectory management and approach to landing and takeoff areas.

“There’s a lot of work to do to move toward AAM integration and we will need a broad collection of voices at the table. We encourage communities to get involved now, while we’re in these early phases, and we need to continue to hear from industry, many of whom are represented here today.

“We’re also reaching out globally. Many of the players seeking to operate AAM in the U.S. are also seeking to operate in other countries. So, the FAA is working with civil aviation authorities from other nations to explore how we can harmonize our integration strategies.

“Two weeks ago, I was in the U.K. meeting with aviation officials in government and industry throughout the world. And I was encouraged to see that several American and British manufacturers of AAM vehicles are moving through their home country’s certification process and now asking their American or U.K. counterparts for validation.

“We’re working to establish these processes. One example is a group called the National Aviation Authorities Network, which is a partnership involving the FAA, the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

“Through this group, we’re looking at how we might align our certification processes and standards for AAM aircraft. And we’re eager to work with other nations so we can exchange expertise and share progress with each other. 

“Just a short time ago, the idea of having prescription medication airlifted to your front door during a pandemic or taking a flying car to the airport was the stuff of science fiction. Today, there is a real chance that these technologies could become a daily reality. This industry is writing and rewriting the history of aviation in real time, and we have the opportunity to lay the foundation for the decade ahead while inspiring the next generation.   

“We must continue to work together – across government and industry and with our international partners – to ensure that these technologies are safe and sustainable. Then and only then, will they live up to their promise.”

Read Acting Administrator Nolen’s full speech at the FAA

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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