“If we’ve gotten it right from the regulatory framework, from the level of safety the public expects, and all of that comes together, then a world we only thought about in science fiction becomes science fact,” mused outgoing FAA Acting Administrator at the ‘Future of Everything Festival’ in New York City this week.
Nolen’s comment came a few days after the FAA released Version 2.0 of its Urban Air Mobility Concept of Operations.
In the latest iteration, still a work in progress with NASA and industry partners, two key concepts have moved to prominence – cooperation and corridors.
The document defined Cooperative Operating Practices (COPs) as “Industry-defined, FAA-approved practices that address how operators cooperatively manage their operations within the CA (i.e., UAM Corridor), including conflict management, equity of airspace usage, and Demand-Capacity Balancing (DCB).”
The FAA noted that under this foundational blueprint, UAM operations “will begin at a low rate with air taxis flying much as helicopters do today. They’ll use existing routes and infrastructure such as helipads and early vertiports. Pilots will communicate with air traffic controllers where required.” Initial UAM operations will be conducted by UAM aircraft “leveraging current ATS rules and regulations (e.g., VFR, IFR).”
With increased operating tempo, what the document calls ‘Midterm Operations,’ the corridors concept will kick in, including ‘passing lanes.’ “UAM operations will evolve through changes to the governing regulations augmented by COPs, UAM infrastructure, and automation. The evolution to a collaborative, information-rich, data-sharing environment may require new technologies and capabilities.”
In future ‘mature operations,’ “UAM Corridors may form a network to optimize paths and support an increasing number of vertiports… Deconfliction may be allocated to the UAM operator, PIC, or operator’s automation.” Within the corridors, Automated Flight Rules (AFRs) could “reflect the evolution of the current regulatory regime (e.g., VFR/IFR) and take into account advancing technologies and procedures.”
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. Curiously, and perhaps because the CONOPS are still evolving, there is no mention of training in the 33-page document. At the recent WATS conference, Ben Lafargue, AQP Manager, FAA Training and Simulation Group, told attendees, “I do expect decisions to be coming very soon.”