In early March David Oord, Wisk’s Policy Manager, participated in a showcase on Advanced Air Mobility – Aircraft and Technology, at the HAI HELI-EXPO 2023 in Atlanta, GA. As part of that showcase, Oord discussed Wisk’s vision to provide safe, everyday flight for everyone, along with the policy changes that will be needed to realize it — centered around the certification of autonomy and the safe integration of autonomous operations into today’s national airspace.
This year’s HELI-EXPO was the second year with Wisk presenting, and featured several AAM sessions — illustrating the high level of interest in AAM.
During the event, HAI published a document that Wisk is proud to have contributed to: The Roadmap of Advanced Air Mobility Operations.
This roadmap considers key aspects of AAM operations such as:
To be successful, the AAM industry needs to leverage existing infrastructure such as airports and heliports, as well as develop new dedicated take-off and landing infrastructure, called vertiports. In addition to physical infrastructure, updating electrical and communications infrastructure is crucial to ensure that the aircraft’s batteries can be recharged and the airspace safely managed.
To ensure effective infrastructure development, careful consideration must be given to eVTOL operations. For example, the Roadmap outlines that the AAM network should be comprised of both public and private infrastructure to enable initial near-term operations and to scale operations effectively.
It is important that state and local authorities understand how to collaborate with the industry to plan for future AAM operations, and how to leverage AAM to support their mobility and economic development targets. Federal funding has been made available to support local governments in AAM planning, thanks to the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization (AAIM) Act passed earlier this year through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. The AAIM Act and funding would not have been possible without the leadership and sponsoring of Representatives Rick Larsen (D-WA), Garret Graves (R-LA), and Dina Titus (D-NV) along with Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
Regulations and Airspace Use
Collaborating with regulatory bodies such as the FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is essential to crafting a pathway for safe AAM operations.
The industry should promote efforts to facilitate the use of existing airspace and regulatory frameworks. The future regulatory environment should evolve from existing rules, with managed deviations from the existing frameworks — such as in route development, airspace modernization, and tailored energy reserve requirements.
Integration of the airspace, rather than segregation of AAM operations, should be the goal. For Wisk, integrating a self-flying air taxi into urban airspace will initially be on very structured and defined routes, that go between two operating sites and leverage existing instrument flight rules with existing air traffic control. But, in order to scale, we envision a new set of flight rules (or a modified set of existing rules) that will take into account the limited scope of operations, short flight duration, connected aircraft, and performance capabilities. NASA and others are currently exploring Digital Flight Rules (DFR) and ways to take advantage of emerging aircraft technologies and remove some of the restrictions inherent in the current set of rules that have been developed around legacy aircraft, systems, and air traffic management.
Training, Vehicle Development, and Insurance
Workforce training will need to support various components of the entire AAM ecosystem, including pilots, mechanics, engineers, traffic managers, designers, and flight and ground instructors. The AAM community may utilize existing maintenance training standards for initial operations until exemptions or alternate means of compliance are in place. Wisk’s autonomous operations will create an opportunity for new jobs, including those specifically trained and qualified to work on remotely supervised electric self-flying air taxis — without the physical requirements expected for traditional, legacy aircraft and operations. Some of these jobs could potentially include persons who have been previously prevented from participating in commercial aviation.
For the development of vehicles, aircraft manufacturers and regulators must establish airworthiness criteria, standards, and acceptable means of compliance for AAM vehicle development. Aircraft OEMs and regulators should align efforts to address the unique certification requirements of aircraft designs. It would be a mistake to try to fit these aircraft into helicopter or airplane-type certification standards. The FAA is leveraging a new, special class of aircraft, Powered-Lift, under which electric vertical takeoff and land (eVTOL) aircraft will be type certificated. Wisk is actively working with the FAA through this process.
HAI is positioned to leverage its network to start early conversations with the insurance industry for AAM considerations, a necessity for addressing AAM’s unique risk exposures. At HELI-EXPO, it was great to see existing helicopter operators like Blade and Bristow embrace eVTOL as part of their current operations and explore new use cases, enabled through the new technology, safety, sustainability, and reduced noise signature of AAM aircraft.
HAI members and stakeholders can benefit from outreach programs to enhance industry understanding and appreciation of AAM aircraft and operations. Community outreach campaigns will be critical to the success of AAM. The industry must educate and influence the public, policymakers, and non-AAM industry stakeholders, as well as pursue efforts to align with various government agencies.
For example, Wisk recently entered into a partnership with the City of Long Beach. As part of this collaboration, working groups were established that include key industry members, city representatives, and other stakeholders. Presentations at local economic conferences and mobility summits covered the impacts of AAM, potential economic benefits, and future workforce training requirements. Wisk also worked closely with the Long Beach airport to apply for a SMART Grant to support AAM implementation. Most recently, Wisk has sponsored the Long Beach Economic Partnership and the Cal State Long Beach Office of Economic Research to conduct an economic impact study of AAM in the LA region, the results of which are expected in 2023. Such engagement is essential to clarify the expectations and capabilities of individual stakeholders, and identify what is ultimately necessary for successful AAM implementation.
At Wisk, we feel strongly that emerging Advanced Air Mobility operations should expand and diversify aviation decision-makers, rather than compete with existing leaders. We intend to be complementary to current operations, safely integrate into the airspace, and not take away from any of today’s use cases.
As a member of the Council that created this Roadmap, Wisk is proud of all the hard work done by HAI, the vertical aviation community, and our team to put this document together. We strongly encourage everyone interested to read the full document.
The Helicopter Association International (HAI) is an industry association that provides support, services, and sets safety guidelines for the international vertical aviation community – traditionally helicopters but now welcoming advanced air mobility (AAM). Wisk is proud to be a member of this community, and currently sits on HAI’s Advanced Air Mobility Advisory Council (AAM-IAC), where we share our concept of operations, collaborate with HAI and other industry stakeholders, and provide insight as AAM industry leaders.