- The US House of Representatives passed the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization (AAIM) Act that provides funding to plan and build vertiports.
- Congress also continues to advance the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act.
The US advanced air mobility (AAM) sector has been moving forward primarily through private sector initiatives. For instance, Archer Aviation shares began trading on the New York Stock Exchange last September under its ticker ACHR, joining Joby, Lilium and Vertical Aerospace which have looked to public shares to generate additional investments. The aerospace and defense industry is also seeing the emergence of joint ventures in the AAM sector. One prominent JV is Wisk, established in 2019 as a joint venture between The Boeing Company and Kitty Hawk Corporation.
Yet, in a gentle nudge to Adam Smith, the 18th-century economist and philosopher, who was a proponent of less government and more private enterprise – embodied in his “invisible hand” metaphor – the US Congress is belatedly asserting itself to advance AAM in the US.
Legislation on the Watch List
CAT and the AAM community are monitoring two US legislative efforts.
Most recently, the US House of Representatives passed the AAIM Act that aims to provide $25 million in grants over two years to plan and build vertiport infrastructure for AAM and future eVTOL operations. This legislation would be the premier starting point to address how US vertiports could be funded. A companion bill is in deliberation in the US Senate.
Melissa McCaffrey, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at Overair, said her eVTOL company is excited to see support from Congress toward the AAM industry: “Most recently, the US House of Representatives passed the Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act, which would establish a two-year pilot initiative that invests $25 million in competitive grants for state, local and tribal governments to plan AAM infrastructure. This would be a great first step in what will need to be a long-term effort to ensure state and local entities are supported and are able to prepare for future AAM operations. We certainly see this as a jump-start to the industry that would accelerate the future growth of the US AAM market.”
Elsewhere in the expanding AAM sector, Clint Harper, Urban Air Mobility Lab Fellow, told CAT, “I would say the investment in aircraft development and increasing interest in existing urban aviation operations have already jump-started the market. Numerous aircraft manufacturers are working hard to certify new electric aircraft and their operations. With the prospect of an increased tempo of urban aviation operations in quieter electric aircraft, there is a need to consider how cities develop land-use and transportation policies for new infrastructure. This type of planning is critical to maximizing the benefits of AAM while minimizing any negative impacts.”
Harper then emphasized that the funding in this legislation targets future public facilities. “Along with new opportunities, this also may present challenges for cities. Aviation grants, typically managed by the FAA, often come with 'grant assurances' that applicants agree to comply with,” the UAM Lab Fellow said, and significantly added, “Among these is Grant Assurance 22, Economic Non-discrimination, which requires applicants to make associated facilities available to the public. In other words, new facilities planned with this grant money could be required to be made available to legacy helicopters and general aviation operations. This could be detrimental to cities' efforts to mitigate community noise and emissions exposure. The industry is awaiting further details to understand if this will be an issue.”
In terms of whether additional financial support is required from government entities (federal, state and local) to support the safe, efficient start-up of the US eVTOL market, Harper replied Urban Movement Labs is working with the City of Los Angeles to answer this question. He explained, “Together, we are working on releasing a primer for cities to help with local integration efforts. Policy development and planning will need to be updated to support local and regional integration into transportation and land-use environments. Infrastructure design guidance, environmental impact studies, building and fire codes, aviation system planning, and state airport and heliport permitting will all need updating. Enhanced weather reporting, fire and emergency response, and compliance monitoring are other areas cities are exploring.”
As CAT previously reported, a second piece of AAM-focused legislation, the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, which earlier worked its way through the Senate, was also passed by the House on 14 June with amendments. The legislation makes its circuitous route back to the Senate to approve. Once it is approved in that chamber, it will advance to President Joe Biden to be signed into law, after which time an interagency working group will be established within 120 days.
Uncertainty for Becoming Public Law
The prospects for enactment of these two AAM-related legislative bills in this session of Congress is murky at best. While this is an off-year election, there is an increasingly divided electorate and US Congress primarily focused on staking out positions on high-level policy issues, mostly in the social domain. Firm leadership by Congressional sponsors and proponents of this AMM legislation is required before the Senate and House adjourn for summer and election recesses – with the reality that momentum gained to enact these bills may be lost after America votes this 8 November.