UAM, AAM, or both?

Urban air mobility (UAM) is a hot topic right now. People find it thrilling to think that on some future day a passenger will board an aircraft in a major metropolitan city and be whisked quickly, efficiently, and safely across town.

If you are reading ROTOR magazine, you know that the helicopter industry has been conducting UAM missions for decades. A company called Helicopter Air Transport was completing commercial urban helicopter flights in 1946 in the Camden, New Jersey, area just a few months after the FAA certificated the helicopter for civil use the previous March.

James Viola

One of the more famous UAM flights was the first presidential flight, on Jul. 12, 1957, carrying Dwight Eisenhower from the White House to Camp David in Maryland.

According to the FAA, UAM will use “highly automated aircraft that will operate and transport passengers or cargo at lower altitudes within urban and suburban areas.” Advanced air mobility (AAM) expands the UAM concept to include missions outside of urban centers, including cargo delivery, public service operations, and intercity flights. Our industry has been actively engaging in this type of work for more than 70 years. In fact, experienced helicopter pilots will most likely be at the controls of UAM/AAM aircraft, either in person or remotely.

Other governments are also working to determine the future for UAM/AAM in their countries. In a 2021 policy statement, the Australian government recognized the benefits of using eVTOL and other technologies to “bridge the tyranny of distance to connect people, goods and services with regional and remote areas” of the country. The International Civil Aviation Organization told attendees at a June 2021 event that UAM was “an opportunity to construct a green and sustainable” aviation sector. While seeing much promise, however, all acknowledge that there still remain substantial challenges for the UAM/AAM sector, including ground infrastructure, battery energy density, and certification.

The lengthy regulatory and certification process required to integrate an entirely new class of aircraft into the airspace will look familiar to anyone working in the rotorcraft industry. Helicopter manufacturers, operators, pilots, and maintenance personnel are accustomed to working in a highly regulated environment; they understand why the highest safety standards must be maintained. That is just one more reason we will be leaders in UAM/AAM operations.

We must recognize UAM/AAM for what it is: an opportunity. Prepare to accept these future aircraft into your business model to complement what you are doing today with helicopters. Your background and experience in vertical flight will enable you to best leverage this technology.

As we welcome these new aircraft, our entire industry will benefit when we work together to:

  • Expand the vertical flight infrastructure
  • Develop additional capabilities to meet societal needs.

HAI wants to pave the roads you need to travel to achieve future growth. Please tell me the hurdles that keep you from doing more today with your helicopters. Where do you foresee obstacles with the new VTOL and eVTOL aircraft you want to bring into your operations? Please reach out to me at president@rotor.org with your concerns.

The next time someone begins to tell you about the coming wonders of urban air taxis, tell them, “That future is already here. I have been flying UAM and AAM for some time.”

Author

  • James Viola

    James A. Viola is HAI’s president and CEO. After a career as a US Army aviator, he joined the FAA, where he served as director of the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance before joining HAI. A dual-rated pilot, Jim holds ATP ratings in both airplanes and helicopters and is a CFII. Jim can be contacted at president@rotor.org.

James Viola

James Viola

James A. Viola is HAI’s president and CEO. After a career as a US Army aviator, he joined the FAA, where he served as director of the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance before joining HAI. A dual-rated pilot, Jim holds ATP ratings in both airplanes and helicopters and is a CFII. Jim can be contacted at president@rotor.org.

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