On Jan. 13, 2020, the Transportation Research Board hosted a panel discussion, “Automation Technology and Transportation,” with senior transportation officials to talk about automation technology in the transportation space. Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) joined two deputy assistant Transportation secretaries to talk about various new technologies and the rulemaking processes governing them. The panelists discussed automated driving systems, self-driving cars, unmanned aircraft systems, and the spectrum allocation for these new technologies.

On the panel, Jay Merkle, the Executive Director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, spoke about UAS and UAM.  An excerpt of his comments are below, as transcribed by C-SPAN. His passage on UAM notably stated, “We have at least six [UAM] aircraft well along in their type certification….”

Our prescriptive rules, we’ve had to look at them, and look at what was the real safety intent behind that rule, and then derive from that safety intent the ability to find a safe operation for the drones. Probably our best example of this is the current prescriptive rules for commercial aviation, require that the pilot have the manuals for the aircraft on board the aircraft. Now, we could certainly digitize all of the UAS manuals, and we can certainly put that digital form of those manuals on the drone while it was flying around. But those manuals would not really be accessible to the pilot when he or she needed them. And that’s what we learned from they don’t construction of this rule, was the real safety intent was to have the information available to the pilot. So we’re able to go back and reconstruct that, and say okay, how in the remote pilot situation do we make that available to them? We are in the third of three years for the integration pilot program. We have nine of our ten original partners, that are still doing very robust operations. It is progressing faster than I think we even predicted it would. And probably the best example of the pace of change that we are seeing comes from our ups flight forward authorization of their commercial, or on demand air carrier certificate. This time last year, January, last year, they were proposing flights, that could occur. In March, we started operating flights under our small UAS rule, and by the end of September, we had figured out how to take that operation and turn it into a commercial air carrier. So for those of you who aren’t as familiar with aviation and its regulatory processes, a manned aviation air carrier with a known aircraft, typically takes about two years. So in the course of roughly nine to ten months, we started from concept to air carrier. And that really is a result of this very innovative program that the department and the office of science and technology have been so supportive of. So we continue to investigate the societal and the economic outcomes of this program. But probably the biggest piece that is coming out of this, and is really the lesson learned for future unmanned aircraft, urban air mobility, and I think all of these automated technologies, is community engagement and community acceptance. We have found that the more work we put into that early on, the quicker we get these safe operations not only up and running but we start seeing the real economic and societal benefits from these. The public has a lot of questions about these technologies. And if you don’t engage the public, with a robust program, then they tend to make up their own answers, as to what you are doing or what you are not doing, and how it benefits them, or how it doesn’t benefit them. And so I think for the small UAS, and I’ll talk later about urban air mobility, the biggest lesson learned out of all of this work has not been the underlying technology, but it’s really been how do we engage the public and help them embrace these very innovative technologies? We’ve seen in other countries where they didn’t do as good of a job embracing the community, that that community was very quick in shutting down those operations, so that’s a real advantage that we’ve seen here. So the IPP, or the integration and pilot program, as I mentioned, will terminate in October this year. There is one aspect of this that we will continue to work with our partners on, and that is unlocking the economic and societal benefits of the beyond vision line of sight through safe operations. And primarily this is ensuring that the aircraft continue to be air worthy, durable and reliable, and then also working to determine, detect and avoid, which in today’s manned aviation system, a pilot prays a function called see and avoid, where the pilot is responsible for seeing other aircraft and avoiding them. Well, obviously, these drones do not have a pilot on board. And the remote sensing technology in terms of an extension of the human eyeball is really not particularly great at avoiding the other aircraft. And that, those, the technology of detect and avoid, and aircraft, reliability and durability, will be the things that we continue to work on with our partners. But we aren’t stopping there. You may have heard that we have issued another set of proposed rulemaking for what I think will probably be the most significant rule in the drone community that we will see in the next ten years, and that is remote identification. Remote identification is essentially a license tag, like you would have on your car, but an electronic version, and it’s associated with your drone. This technology is vitally important for ensuring that we can safely evolve the ecosystem around drones. It is also vitally important for our security partners, our defense partners, and local public safety officials. One of the great challenges with drone operations today is if someone is operating an aircraft outside of the conformance of the rules, it is very difficult to track them down to identify them and to find the operator. And remote identification will allow drones to see other drones in the air space, so that they can operate safely among each other, it will also allow public safety and defense officials to determine the identification of that drone, and the location of the operator. Now, the personally identifiable information will not be available to the public. You will only, you will have to have actual credentials to be able to get that, so police departments and aviation, safety inspectors and such, will have it. But others will not. I strongly encourage you, if you’re interested in this area, to please go comment on the rule. On the public comment period, it will close on March 2nd, and it is absolutely important that we hear from you, on your ideas, about remote identification.

And so with that, and hopefully you will comment very quickly, I want to close with some thoughts on the next very, very innovative piece of technology that we see emerging, and that’s urban air mobility. As I mentioned, these are aircraft that fill that void from 30 miles to 300 miles, between the small drones and the commercial aircraft we know today. And probably the biggest question I get on this is, is this real? Are they really happening? Yes, this is more than just hype. This is more than just promotional videos. We have at least six aircraft well along in their type certification, which is the first step in introducing the new aircraft into operation. We are beginning to work on integrating them operationally, so the pilot requirements, the airline operating requirements, and then were also beginning to work on the air space integration as well. It will drive a far more multi-modal approach than the small UAS have in the past, and that’s why working with the net counsel and others, were very excited in seeing how we bring all these technologies together. It is both a cargo component and a human transportation component. Particularly for the human transportation component, most of the business models rely on taking people from some hub area, in an urban or suburban area, and transporting them across congested surface congestion, to another hub area, where you can then meet up with short-range surface transportation. And one of the popular ride-sharing companies is doing some business modeling right now with traditional helicopters, and on their application, you can connect with a ride sharing or even their scooters.

So we think that’s going to be a very important area over the next few years, and we see that as we solve the problems with small UAS, and beyond visual line of site, we’ll be turning more and more of our attention to these urban air mobility. And so to that end, we are continuing and starting to work on community engagement. This will be a particularly new challenge for us. Because with small UAS, they don’t require very large landing areas. They don’t require much infrastructure to support them. They’re largely battery-powered or the larger versions are either traditional fossil fuel or hybrid battery fossil fuel, but these urban air mobility, tend to be electric driven and have tremendous power requirements for recharging. There are problems that i should say, there are needs to solve certain problems, associated with getting people to and from these aircraft. The best example is they want to use space on top of existing buildings, as landing areas. And most elevators don’t go to the roof. So they will have to redesign elevators to get passengers up to those areas. And to get them up there safely, and without interrupting other activities. So this is a brief overview of all of the very exciting and innovative things that are going on in aviation today. And I think it matches well with what we’re seeing emerge in the surface transportation areas, and the other areas of research. So again, thank you for your time and attention. And look forward to your questions.

3 Comments

  1. It must be said: Mike, at Electric VTOL News, proves again that VHS is the heart and soul, and midwife; delivering Electric VTOL aviation in the 21st century. He presents FAA comments about UAMs at a Washington “Automation Technology and Transportation” presentation by the Transportation Research Board, and it is a must read by all who actually want to fly UP someday. (better : 1.5 hr. C-SPAN video is even more motivating).
    I watched the C-SPAN telecast live, in its entirety, and the most important item disclosed by Jay Merkle, FAA Executive director of the UAS Integration Office, was their request for public comments about their establishing a “digital license plate” for UAS (and obviously UAM). But, important to you, as the C-SPAN camera pulled back to show the audience, it showed that there was almost NO ONE attending this talk in Washington about “Technology for Transportation”. Is this another example of federal bureaucrats justifying their life-long employment (till retirement/staff reduction) about stuff they have little control over and certainly know even less, when the changes they must deal with are “transformational”.
    The most relevant technology that was never discussed, or even suggested, was the integration of Artificial Intelligence with the next Radio Frequency band allocations for superior/secure, and USA based, 5G, that will have the speed and capacity required for our aircraft to talk to each other, identify real time flight paths, and keep track on ALL conditions of the vehicle and pilot (remote or computer or passenger). A UAM is NEVER going to fly over Chicago if $300 Billion for future technologies is not spent. Neither FAA, nor FCC, nor DOT will have budgets to guide how this future will happen.
    The DOT’s expert on Science and Technology (Diana Roth) was more concerned about the FCC proposed allocation of 10 megahertz bandwidth in the 5.9 Gig band for automobile and emergency responder’s “SAFETY.” She enjoys visiting Universities where autonomous shuttle/trucking demonstrations are being done, but her major focus was totally about “SAFETY.” Her leadership apparently is focused on developing backup GPS satellite systems, at the request of DOD, Homeland Security, and serious anti-terrorist spooks in the DOT.
    Roth was out done by James Owens the “Acting” Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (a bureaucracy that is now 50 years old) repeatedly focused on 36,560 lives lost per year in Traffic accidents caused by booze, drugs, texting distractions, and SPEED (never seen in urban traffic jams). That is because there are more registered vehicles (250+ million, mostly OLD cars/trucks) than licensed drivers; with 400 car models DOT has to control, with 50 new models introduced every year. In all that mess, there are also 700,000 “emergency response vehicles” that generate themselves 46,000 crashes every year, with 17,000 serious injuries and 150 mortalities. ALL THAT MEANS the central and everlasting focus of bureaucracies is SAFETY… SAFETY and even some MORE SAFETY like using airbags and autonomous level 4 driver “ASSISTANCE” (driverless vehicles to him seemed impossible, except under extremely narrow conditions).

  2. IF you read my previous comment… then enjoy:
    THE FAA is never going to be our salvation, nor the Dept. of TRANSPORTATION. BOTH bureaucracies were invented TOO LONG AGO, to solve real problems that the public really cared about AFTER the car and airplanes were successfully developed and had already proved their own profitability to the manufacturer, user, and general population. HENCE we had, first, an over population of vehicles that work economically (business plan). Safety was NEVER the first priority.

    WE have yet to see at CES the Bell’s 4-duct NEXUS, or Hyundai’s pretty wing-job, or Toyota UBERIZED battery powered passenger buggies working, and work WELL, especially under REAL operational economics and infrastructures that must be as unique as all those multi-motored concepts funded by venture capital. So, OUR dealing with the public’s opinions, especially about: attractive seating arrangements, safety and privacy and noise before anything profitable is working is a death wish. FIRST let’s make it work right (business model and aircraft power systems design wise) and then talk about the FAA/DOT responsibilities for SAFETY… Because of the FAA’s absolute/total focus on SAFETY, (especially after 737max) the certification process for existing UAM designs will take an eternity.

    SAFETY should be the LAST on OUR emerging industry’s “to do list.” Design crafts and find markets that don’t care at all about safety… Why is this so simple?
    The FCC UAS office rule making proposal is certainly the most important event for the E-VTOL technical focus for at least the next 20 years. That is their “Remote Identification” (license tag). WHY, because, at most of the VTOL “TRANSFORMATIONAL “ events sponsored by VHS that I attended, I spoke VERY aggressively to any and ALL FCC bureaucrats in attendance (mostly there about “certifications”) that a “DIGITAL LICENSPLATE” made exclusively by/from the FCC must be on ANYTHING and everything that flies. (most folks trying to fly new stuff will NOT like this idea)…
    So send in your comments to the FAA regarding the Digital remote identification scheme… they need you.

  3. BUT: The OFFICIAL DIGITAL CHIP should basically be a 5G Cellphone, (complete with GPS, accelerometers, compass and clocks, microphones and lots of 6G blue-ish connections to other parts of the craft)… encryptedly connected HARD and DIRECTLY to the main Aircraft Operating System, so that when all these quad copters (AKA our future UAMs) and helicopters or 737 commercial craft get into their interactions, the BIG system in the sky (AI servers that will be bigger than that used by CIA) will know who is doing what to whom.

    ESPECIALLY if it’s a UAM trying to land in instantly-too-windy bad weather, at an over crowed, rooftop Vertiport, with insufficient electric power for fast recharges. Somebody independent has to directly command the craft (not a human pilot) to land at the nearest OK safe spot, and if the piloting system does not get it right ASAP, then the Spooks (buried away in some cave in Utah) would have the authority to call up the digital cellphonish chip to shut down the vehicle (not try fly it, just say “stop flying NOW” OR ELSE).
    The only place this mentality will ever work beneficially for the first time is if the FAA changes its 103 ultra-light non-certification rules about Experimental Aircraft regarding their weight, power, flight times (akin to X-Prize thinking, sorta).. and used for NON-COMMERCIAL (not paying passengers) applications that are “PUBLIC SERVICE” oriented… For example: stopping a forest fire is possible; with Electric VTOLs. Or if use purely for RECREATIONAL flight akin to Jet-skis, snowmobiles, mountain bikes, hang-gliders, powered parachutes (all dangerously UN-safe but “fun”)
    THAT will get the public to want this stuff….

    AND THEN, in the future, we work on all the other stuff that the FAA can/should care about. It is based on THIS focus I must congratulate Terrafugia’s aero-car pioneer Dr. Carl Detrick for his new JUMP AERO intended for “first responder” focus on “PUBLIC SERVICE” aircraft and its many and various potential business modes. THAT is another, much better way to the future of E-VTOLs for everyone (eventually). Fly where ever the hurricane just left, and BEFORE the collapse of the flooded dam/dike. God bless Carl and Anna.

    THAT solution is obviously a “flying U-HAUL-UP TRUCK market for Hyundai/Toyota/Bell/Boeing… and many others.

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