Leading aircraft manufacturers and operators expect to begin operating advanced air mobility (AAM) aircraft at some U.S. airports within the next two years, flying fixed, low-volume routes to specific vertiports, according to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.1
A report on the study, released in late October, said that initial AAM service will operate “more like traditional helicopters,” flying from an airport to a number of vertiports, “rather than an on-demand air taxi system serving an entire urban area.” That initial service will be a prelude to more widespread AAM flights later in the decade, including airport ground access, connecting passenger service between regional and hub airports, and cargo operations, the report said.
The report noted that, in interviews and a survey, airport representatives responding to the survey did not foresee any significant safety challenges associated with integrating AAM aircraft into their operations. They told researchers that after AAM aircraft have obtained type certification and airworthiness certification, “the safety concerns for AAM are no different from any other aircraft operations.”
The study included interviews with members of the AAM industry and airport staff members as well as a survey of airport operators that was conducted in mid-2022 and generated 74 valid responses. Those responses indicated that the first airports with AAM service likely will be smaller, general aviation airports, the report said, adding that large commercial airports or those with congested operations in the air or on the ground will face additional challenges. Many airports surveyed in the study have not planned for AAM service, the report said.
“While many airports are aware of AAM and are evaluating future infrastructure needs at a high level, uncertainty, challenges and information gaps limit the level of planning that can be conducted now,” the report said. Those challenges include the development of information about planned flight operations and aircraft infrastructure needs; firefighting requirements and other safety requirements; design guidelines for vertiports; aircraft electrical charging requirements; and regulations for air traffic control and airspace.
Airports already planning for AAM operations have established relationships with manufacturers, service providers or infrastructure developers, the report said. Airports without those relationships could take basic steps to begin planning, including evaluating the AAM uses that might apply to the particular airport, evaluating the airport’s electrical infrastructure, understanding airport capacity restraints and evaluating the airport layout to determine how AAM could be integrated into existing operations, the document added.
AAM service could provide new opportunities for some airports and their customers, such as improved local and regional connectivity and shorter travel times, the report said.
Image: NASA/Lillian Gipson, Kyle Jenkins
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (Contributors: Mark Fowler, Airport Cooperative Research Program, Transportation Research Board, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine). “Airport-Centric Advanced Air Mobility Market Study.” Washington (The National Academies Press) 2023. https://doi.org/10.17226/27326