The Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) mission at NASA is working to bring new forms of aviation into our skies, including small drones delivering packages, air taxis carrying passengers, and air ambulances providing lifesaving transportation.
Electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are aircraft that are capable of taking off and landing vertically, like a helicopter, but are powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels. Companies such as Joby, Archer, and Lilium are working on developing and manufacturing these types of vehicles for use as air taxis, which are essentially on-demand air transportation services.
The idea is that in the future, requesting an air taxi will be as easy as using a ride-hailing service like Uber. You would use a smartphone app to request a ride, and a pilotless or piloted eVTOL vehicle would pick you up from a designated landing pad, then take you to your destination. The goal is to make air travel more accessible and convenient, while also reducing congestion and emissions on the ground.
Before these aircraft can fly in U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must assure that they are safe for transporting passengers, and flying over communities.
To ensure the safe integration of air taxis into existing airspace NASA is examining options for takeoff and landing, as well as the design, power source, and maintenance of these aircraft. In order to regulate and certify these aircraft for use in national airspace, NASA is also sharing data with the FAA.
The AAM National Campaign is already conducting testing with helicopters to evaluate how new AAM aircraft will move in and out of locations. The next phase of this research involves working with partners who have electric (eVTOLs) that can interact with prototype vertiports.
With 5,000 public airports in the U.S., AAM could provide new ways for passengers to access them. Air taxis could provide convenient transportation for those in rural areas or cities to reach commercial airliners, as well as improve access to medical care and opportunities to purchase goods.
NASA’s AAM mission is using information exchange, simulations, modeling, and flight tests to help industry evaluate how automation, vehicle design and operations, and other research areas can be integrated to ensure this new class of vehicles is safe to operate. One research arm of the mission is the agency’s System-Wide Safety project.
The System-Wide Safety project evaluates how the aerospace industry and aircraft modernization affect safety. AAM aircraft will be highly automated, with systems that make safety-critical decisions on a regular basis. These decisions could include hazard perception and avoidance, as well as flight path management functions enabling vehicles to operate without a pilot.
The System-Wide Safety project is developing a new technology called the In-time Aviation Safety Management System (IASMS), which will automate safety assurance and risk management functions performed manually today. The IASMS would continuously monitor the National Air Space, collecting data on in flight aircraft, air traffic management, airports, ground conditions, and weather to assess potential risks.
As companies pursue the development of innovative aircraft designs and concepts, it is crucial to prioritize the safety of these new modes of transportation.
Through flight tests, crash tests, tabletop exercises, and the development of new technologies, NASA is working to create a safe, accessible, and affordable new air transportation system for the future_