What must happen for humanity to see and benefit from drones and air taxis?
September 8eFederal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson told the Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas that his administration’s official position on over-the-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights for aerial vehicles unmanned (UAV) could be as close as Thanksgiving. It’s about two months away.
But the question is, are we ready? There are three avenues that I believe are essential for drones and air taxis to safely populate large-scale National Airspace (NAS) and for humanity to begin the process of benefiting from a clean way. distribution, inspection and transport.
Track 1: Technology
To be extremely simplistic, for manned and unmanned aircraft to share controlled airspace, we will need to find a way to replace the functions of pilots and air traffic controllers in drones and potentially air taxis and this can only be accomplished by with technology. A lot.
When we analyze the functions of a pilot, we realize that there is a series of repetitive and simple tasks that each pilot, flying in visual or instrument conditions, performs repeatedly. The trick would be to develop the right technology to perform these functions reproducibly and safely. Detect and Avoid (DAA) is a good example of what pilots do on a regular basis and UAVs will have to do it automatically without human supervision.
According to a Boeing study around 80% of aviation accidents are caused by humans, so the safety threshold for pilot replacement strategies is quite low, but it is also important to remember that most of the time pilots avoid accidents. catastrophes by making unorthodox decisions that machines are not ready to make right now. Captain Sullenberger and US Airways Flight 1549 comes to mind.
The other side of the equation is that air traffic controllers have an incredibly difficult job of maintaining separation and channeling thousands of flights a day through a complex web of invisible airways and hundreds of airports. They’re already too stretched to add UAVs and UAMs to the mix. How can we support ATC with technology? Well, very simply, we keep them informed of UAV and UAM activities, but don’t involve them in the routing decisions of these unmanned aircraft.
Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) systems are the logical answer to this conundrum, and luckily we’ve made a lot of progress lately on this front. UTMs are designed to handle unmanned aircraft flying at low altitude and following certain criteria involving predefined corridors, strict routing protocols and safety provisions.
ATC will have constant access to the UTM assigned to their respective sectors, but at no time will they have to make decisions or interfere with unmanned traffic unless there is an imminent emergency and a conflict with aviation with pilot.
There are other technologies that would make it easier to add unmanned aircraft to NAS, but DAA and UTM are a good illustration of the challenges in terms of hardware and software.
Track 2: Community
Because we are adding UAVs and UAMs to the NAS for the benefit of people, it makes sense that we involve them in the decision. We need a deep analysis of the impact and opinion of end users.
The primary concern of communities today appears to be noise associated with airplanes, especially helicopters and low-flying commercial airplanes, although the sound emitted by a small drone is considered annoying at best. So, will people be willing to compromise on noise based on the incredible benefits of drones? Not necessarily. A NASA study concluded that the noise issue is a bigger barrier to full deployment than originally thought.
Security and privacy are among other relevant issues that people have mentioned as areas of caution when asked about drones flying overhead. Regardless of their initial opposition to the idea, everyone seems to agree that it would be great to have same-day deliveries by drone, but there are still a lot of challenges ahead. Fortunately, many established and new companies are doing innovative R&D to solve these problems and be the first to bring to market what promises to be a huge revenue stream and a multibillion-dollar Total Addressable Market (TAM).
Another huge hurdle with unmanned aviation, especially air taxis or urban air mobility (UAM, also known as Advanced Air Mobility or AAM) appears to be the infrastructure on the ground. Building new airports in urban areas seems a failure, especially in the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) era. Therefore, adding new infrastructure to support flight operations is not the way to go. Using existing facilities, especially general aviation (GA) airports, flat-roofed buildings, parking lots, shopping malls, or other open-air areas appears to be the fastest way to go. ‘go forward.
The reality is that we will need ground structures to support the necessary areas associated with the change of mode of transportation from road to air and vice versa, such as parking, charging stations, and take-off areas and docks. ‘landing. Uber Elevation, the rideshare company’s initiative to add air taxis to their existing services, is optimistic that existing facilities could be transformed to serve as vertiports, the name they use to refer to these new structures.
Track 3: Airspace
Today, drones can fly within visual range of their operators and special exemptions can be obtained to conduct BVLOS flight under special circumstances for specific purposes. The FAA Administrator’s speech at the recent Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas sent a powerful message to an industry willing, ready and able to launch regular drone and air taxi services. His message has given hope to hundreds of small, medium and large businesses that the end of the waiting period will soon be over and that the FAA will be ready to begin deployment on a crawl-walk-run model.
The first thing that needs to be regulated is the BVLOS in which it is not necessary to have visual observers on the ground to monitor the flight. This will allow operators to reduce human intervention and increase their flights from the current handful to hundreds, if not thousands. But how close are we to this new reality? Not very close, unfortunately, and the best wishes of an enthusiastic government official are not enough to populate the skies with countless unmanned planes.
The hopeful truth is that if the FAA is willing to begin testing in unencumbered areas and if the existing cooperation between NASA, FAA, academia and industry can be accelerated, we may see some initial efforts. to test the behavior of piloted and unmanned aviation. and react to each other and this will give way to more and more zones being added to the system.
In summary, now that the FAA has publicly given a date for a first notice on BVLOS, and given the huge advancements in DAA and UTM over the past 18 months, the world seems to be getting closer to the day when drones, air taxis , commercial and general aviation aircraft will share controlled airspace in a new era of air travel that will definitely and radically change the way we shop, travel and, for some, do our daily tasks. But we will first have to address these three avenues as a community.