The Federal Aviation Administration has released what it calls an “updated blueprint” for airspace and procedure changes to safely accommodate urban air mobility (UAM) operations in the national airspace system.
The US aviation regulator said on 3 May that the air taxis will initially fly “much as helicopters do today”, using existing routings and infrastructure. They will also be required to communicate and coordinate with existing air traffic control regulations.
“As the number of operations increases, air taxis are expected to fly in corridors between major airports and vertiports in city centres,” the FAA says. “The complexity of the corridors could increase over time from single one-way paths to routes serving multiple flows of aircraft flying in both directions. Over time, these corridors could link an increasing number of routes between vertiports.”
The FAA says technology will evolve and aircraft automation will eventually play a greater role.
“Air taxis likely will operate one way only in the established corridors at first. As air taxis increase in number and complexity, strategies for two-way traffic could be introduced,” the FAA says in a video published along with the blueprint.
The 42-page document outlines airspace considerations and scenarios, and is the “continued maturation of UAM” as it incorporates feedback from industry, research and government stakeholders to its original plans, which had been published in June 2020.
“The operational blueprint is a key step — along with certifying the aircraft and pilots — in the FAA’s effort to safely usher in and support this next era of aviation,” the regulator adds. “The blueprint aims to provide a common frame of reference to the FAA, NASA and industry to help guide their research and decision-making.”
Air taxis will be operating “at scale” in major urban centres across the USA by 2033, FAA administrator Billy Nolen says at a conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal on 3 May. Therefore, the aviation rules that have been in place for decades need to evolve and develop in order to integrate the new type of air transportation options. “We are changing from science fiction to science facts.”
“We are well on our way to making it a reality today,” he adds.
Dozens of companies are working on advanced air mobility designs, with some promising this new form of air transport by the middle of the decade.
California start-up Archer Aviation, for example, recently said it was partnering with United Airlines to launch downtown-to-airport service in Chicago as well as Miami, New York and Los Angeles. The company says that such “trunk” routes would allow for future “branch” routes that connect to surrounding suburbs and smaller communities.
In February 2021, United committed to purchase up to 200 Archer air taxis as part of a deal that involved United’s regional airline partner Mesa Airlines. United has already made pre-delivery payments of $10 million for 100 airframes.
Archer’s prototype Midnight aircraft, which is designed to seat one pilot and four passengers and carry carry 450kg (1,000lb) of payload, is in the final stages of production and is expected to begin ground testing imminently. The company is aggressively pursuing a type certificate with the intention of launching commercial operations in 2025.