Advanced Air Mobility is imminent in some urban environments, although these are experiences aimed at consolidating knowledge about the reality of this new modality of transport, as well as a strong limiting factor for the promotion of the brands involved. In any case, there is no doubt that in a relatively short period of time, AAM will be a reality in many metropolitan areas, and it will be a means of transportation with which we will have to live naturally.
The joint work of regulators, local entities, manufacturers, operators, researchers, and engineering consultants with clear and aligned objectives is essential for AAM to become a reality in the short term.
As we have already commented in the previous post (click here), implementation of AAM requires a significant effort in planning, design, and infrastructure development, in addition to other collateral considerations.
The AAM revolution revolves around three technological aspects: VTOL aircraft, the organization of airspace and navigation therein, and infrastructures. We are currently working on providing solutions to the needs expressed in all these aspects. But without going into the first two here, we will delve into the key aspects to be developed in relation to infrastructures.
Development of the physical network:
It entails developing a dense physical network of AAM infrastructures that facilitates access to users and support for VTOLs. The easier access is for users, the more successful this mode of transport will be.
The key aspects in the network will be:
- Plan, design and build cost-efficient vertiports.
- Work together with authorities and local transport operators to overcome space limitations and find suitable locations for vertiports close to potential users, with easy access and generating new urban spaces.
- Establish associations with land and property owners to obtain the necessary surfaces.
- Accommodate the electrical network for the energy demand required for recharge.
- Creating a network of verti-services that are complementary to the vertiports is key to supporting the operations of the AAM (loading, contingency landing, maintenance), especially in densely built-up urban areas or with high land costs.
Vertiports will be much more complex than current heliports. In many respects, the design of air-ground interfaces will need to respond to the needs of aircraft, users, and the traffic management system.
The key aspects in relation to technology will be:
- Physical accessibility and integration with other mobility systems.
- Use of efficient construction technology that allows the expansion and/or relocation of vertiports. The possibility to make them transportable, flexible, and scalable will allow them to be easily adapted to the demand of any given time and scenario.
- Guarantee the energy supply of the infrastructure. If possible, try to achieve energy self-sufficiency of the infrastructure, with future sustainable generation and on-site energy storage.
- Aerodynamic design of vertiports around takeoff, landing, and maneuvering surfaces to avoid turbulence problems generated by VTOLs.
- Allow real-time communication of vertiport status and resource management of the AAM network (communicating this information to flight operators and the traffic management system), with the necessary sensors and system architecture. The system architecture must be robust and avoid (cyber-)security risks.
- Provision of reliable and accurate advanced meteorological services.
- Automation and/or remote control of passenger and cargo handling processes, easy to use, and providing an adequate response to sensitive issues (security controls and fire detection and extinction).
- Agnostic vertiports, which do not stick to just covering the standards of only one type of aircraft, but rather provide spaces and technology compatible with various VTOLs.
Regulation and legislation associated with vertiports:
AAM stakeholders must collaborate to not only overcome the technological challenges that this new mode of transport entails, but also to eliminate some regulatory requirements imposed by traditional aviation that represent obstacles to intermodal integration. The goal is to make AAM one more possibility among the mix of intermodal transport that people can use every day.
The key aspects in relation to regulation are:
- Vertiport regulations must be homogeneous at an international level. It is a particularly interesting example that the vertical obstacle limitation surfaces and volumes suggested by EASA are taken as standard, which would allow locating vertiports in dense urban environments.
- Allow performing automated security controls based on video surveillance, biometrics, double verification, and pre-identification.
- Use of automated fire detection and extinction systems with remote supervision.
- Establishment of an airspace (through corridors) with rules that allow high-frequency operations at vertiports and the safe coexistence of all types of air traffic, while respecting the comfort and privacy of citizens.
Acceptance of AAM by a part of the community.
In many ways, the above aspects lead to efficient and safe operation, and already consider some of the demands that society has brought forward.
However, although they are not technically essential for the AAM ecosystem to operate, there are issues that all stakeholders must consider, since they are the ones that will guarantee success.
The key aspects related to community acceptance are:
- Create attractive spaces in vertiports and provide an excellent user experience.
- Keep noise levels below the threshold acceptable to local communities. Consider the use of soundproof fences and pavements to reduce the noise level around vertiports, especially in residential areas.
- Use measures that mitigate the risks of collisions with and affection to the local wildlife.
- Implement pilot programs that demonstrate safety and low noise levels and publicize them.
- Provide visibility on the environmental benefits of AAM. Aspects such as the lower emission of carbon dioxide should be highlighted, or the avoidance of the expansion of linear infrastructures that change the landscape, the construction of which implies serious effects on the environment.
Various parts of the world are already witnessing initiatives dealing with the development of infrastructures in the realm of AAM. Some of them seem to be oriented to serve the models of a single manufacturer (Skyports with Volocopter or Ferrovial with Lilium, are two examples). Although these projects will provide vital data on processes and operations, we believe that popularization will occur where different operators and competition coexist. In fact, it is certain that, in the European and North American markets with well-developed antitrust regulations, the existence of separate entities for aircraft, airspace and infrastructure operations will be enacted.
Some of the most ambitious projects have very short-term goals. A good example is, already in 2024, they want to offer air taxi service during the Olympic Games in Paris. On that same date, there is also a proposal to start operations with passengers in a regulated and operational airspace in Germany.
From all of the above, it can be concluded that the joint work of regulators, local entities, manufacturers, operators, researchers, and engineering consultants with clear and aligned objectives is essential. Only then will AAM become part of our society.