U.S. Air Force, FAA Sign Advanced Air Mobility MOU

The research arm of the U.S. Air Force – known as AFWERX – and the Federal Aviation Administration recently agreed to share flight-test data to accelerate the safe integration of Advanced Aircraft Mobility or AAM platforms into the National Airspace System.

[Above photo by Matthew Clouse for the USAF]

The new memorandum of understanding or MOU between the two supports the efforts of AFWERX’s Agility Prime division to advance the integration and maturation of AAM, including the electric vertical takeoff and landing or eVTOL aircraft and autonomous aviation systems.

The MOU will also enable AFWERX and the FAA to exchange data and share capabilities and expertise needed to test these technologies; helping the FAA craft certification efforts, policy, standards, and future airspace integration requirements.

Image by AASHTO

[Editor’s note: In a comment letter filed in August, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials provided the U.S. Department of Transportation with advice regarding short- and long-term efforts to help establish the AAM sector.]

Colonel Elliott Leigh, AFWERX’s director and the USAF’s chief commercialization officer, noted that the goal of Agility Prime is to accelerate emerging commercial markets by leveraging government resources for rapid and affordable fielding – benefiting both the commercial industrial base and U.S. military capabilities.

“Now is the time to redouble these efforts not only with the FAA, but also with other federal partners in this space,” the colonel noted in a statement. “With this MOU and the ongoing AAM Interagency Working Group, we are accelerating a breakthrough in eVTOL aircraft. We are driving progress in propulsion technology, in manufacturing and materials, and in test and safety for a novel class of air vehicles.”

“A new era of aviation is taking off and safe and efficient operations require collaboration,” added John Maffei, the FAA’s acting director of portfolio management and technology development. “This data will help inform FAA certification efforts, policies, standards and future airspace integration requirements.”

This MOU also highlights the “continued commitment” by the Defense Department and the FAA to ensure all aviation conducted in the NAS meets the highest levels of safety and security, explained Darshan Divakaran, head of airspace innovation and prime partnerships for AFWERX.

Divakaran added that the agreement establishes a “unique approach” to integrated testing and data sharing that will not only ensure airspace safety, but also help accelerate development of U.S.-built aircraft, supporting infrastructure and regulatory policy needed for successful integration of AAM.

This USAF/FAA MOU will also support ongoing AAM efforts led by state departments of transportation across the country.

For example, the North Carolina Department of Transportation launched a new initiative in May called Advance Mobility NC that seeks to combine work done within aviation, integrated mobility and rail divisions to create a shared, autonomous, and connected multimodal transportation system for improved access and mobility for both people and freight.

The agency said this new endeavor will invest in new technologies to improve mobility, including autonomous transit vehicles, advanced air mobility, on-demand transportation services, mobility hubs, connected streets, and freight transfer hubs as part of the three-year strategic plan that it expects to formally adopt in 2024.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Transportation has playing a key role over the last year and half in developing technology to keep airspace safe for both “manned” and “unmanned” aircraft, while also establishing an advanced air mobility or AAM framework for autonomous aircraft operation statewide.

At low altitudes, detecting air traffic – including unmanned drones – with traditional radar is much more difficult due to the presence of ground obstructions such as trees, houses, cars, and other low-flying objects such as birds and insect swarms.

As a result, Ohio DOT’s Office of Statewide Planning and Research along with its DriveOhio division has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center, and Ohio State University, and industry to develop and deploy a “detect and avoid” system.

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