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A Master Class in AAM Infrastructure
  • 11 Nov 2023 04:15 AM
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A Master Class in AAM Infrastructure

By Rex Alexander
Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2023

The end of September found numerous industry experts, government officials and entrepreneurs from around the world in Cape May, New Jersey, participating in what some attendees declared was one of the best conferences in the burgeoning advanced air mobility (AAM) industry to date. Several said that the Vertical Flight Society’s AAM Infrastructure Workshop, the seventh in this series, was a master class in AAM infrastructure, and that the depth of knowledge provided and shared was unparalleled to any event that they had previously attended.

The event was held near the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center at Atlantic City International Airport, with the support of — and in support of — the FAA, with nearly a third of the workshop’s speakers and attendees being FAA employees and contractors.

Haddon Antonucci, Policy Director for Congressman Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ-02) gave the keynote address.

Kicking off Day 1 was Yolanka Wulff, Executive Director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI), along with Clint Harper of Harper 4D Solutions and Michael Yablonski of Kimley-Horn. They provided a highly informative “AAM 101” overview, focused on considerations for community acceptance.

This was followed by the official start of the Workshop, with welcome presentations from Joe Molineaux, the Economic Development Manager for Cape May County, and Mike Paglione, Aviation Research Division Manager at the FAA Technical Center. The workshop’s keynote address was provided by Haddon Antonucci, the Policy Director for Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, a staunch advocate for the FAA Technical Center and AAM integration. Paul McDuffee of Supernal, one of the workshops’ sponsors, presented that company’s perspective with a talk entitled, “AAM Entry into Service: The Challenges Ahead.”

The first panel session of the day, “Infrastructure Data Integrity,” led by FAA research engineer Cliff Johnson, highlighted the need for a better and more robust data capture system as it pertains to the tracking of infrastructure information in the FAA’s Airport Data Information Portal (ADIP) system and the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing Program (ASIAS). This was followed by what many consider to be one of the more challenging topics for the AAM industry, “Performance-Based Infrastructure Standards.” Led by the author (who is the VFS Infrastructure Advisor and was the lead organizer of the workshop), panel members provided attendees with their views on what it will take for the FAA to move away from their legacy prescriptive-based infrastructure standards to a true performance-based standard, as it relates to an aircraft’s performance capabilities and limitations.

Wrapping up the first day was a well-attended reception held at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, hosted by the Urban Low Altitude Transport Association (ULTRA). Attendees enjoyed food and beverages from the local brewery in the company of many historic naval aircraft, including a Bell UH-1 and AH-1, and a retired Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard (S-62) from the US Coast Guard to name a few.

Day 2 started off with a short presentation on AAM infrastructure development from Harry Osborne and Jennifer Ganley of PS&S, an architecture and engineering firm located in New Jersey and a sponsor of the workshop. The first panel session of the day was led by Ryan Naru of Joby Aviation. The panel provided a broad overview of a new concept in Performance-Based Fire Protection as it relates to vertiports and how this new approach to fire safety will impact AAM infrastructure design.

Rex Alexander (left) was the lead organizer of the workshop, and chaired this panel on AAM Infrastructure Electrification. L-R: Chip Palombini, Beta Technologies; Jeffrey Richards, USAF Agility Prime; and Clint Harper, Harper4D Solutions.

One session that sparked a lot of interest was an update from the FAA’s Advanced Vertical Lift Team (formerly the FAA Helicopter Modernization Team). The panel, which was moderated by Cliff Johnson, provided insights into how the FAA was engaging its multiple lines of business in the development of standards, orders and regulations for the advancement of AAM. Following this discussion was a session on AAM Operations at Airports moderated by Gaël Le Bris, VP of Aviation Planning at WSP USA. Panel members broke down operations into six key categories: compatibility, capacity, safety, security, passenger experience, and noise and sustainability.

This session was followed by a unique first for the AAM industry, a discussion dedicated to insurance as it relates to AAM and infrastructure. Two insurance experts, Laura O’Donnell of MarshMcLennan Agency and Chris Proudlove of Global Aerospace provided attendees with numerous questions to contemplate pertaining to considerations for charging stations, vertiports, aircraft batteries, pilot qualifications, use types and carriers.

Finishing up the second day of the workshop, Clint Harper led the panel session, “Preparing for 2030: A Pragmatic Blueprint for Vertiport Evolution.” The inclusion in this panel of Usman Javed, a representative of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), marked the first time someone from this organization participated in a VFS workshop on AAM. Key elements discussed in this session centered around the importance of community engagement as it relates to public acceptance by focusing on the lessons learned from past cycles and phases and respecting the role of diversity and the health of our transportation ecosystem.

Day 3 kicked off with a short presentation from Howard Kyle, President and CEO of the National Aerospace Research and Technology Park (NARTP), one of the sponsors of the workshop. Following this was a deep dive into what some may have considered a somewhat contentious subject, namely, what constitutes a “droneport” in the National Airspace System and how are drones going to be integrated into the AAM ecosystem safely and efficiently? Moderated by Jonathan Daniels of Praxis Aerospace Concepts, the panel evaluated the equality and standardization of airspace for all aircraft; drones (aka uncrewed aircraft systems, or UAS) were classified as aircraft by the US Congress by public law in 2014.

Some of the workshop attendees at the Cape May Convention Hall. (VFS photos by Warren Liebmann)

The final session of the day, and the workshop, “AAM Infrastructure Electrification” provided some extremely valuable lessons learned from two industry leaders in AAM electrification. Chip Palombini, Vertiport and Charging Infrastructure Team Lead for Beta Technologies, in collaboration with Jeffrey Richards of the US Air Force’s AFWERX Agility Prime program, both gave several real-world examples of what their teams have found that worked — and what didn’t work — in the development of their ecosystems for charging infrastructure (see also, “Beta Goes the Distance,” Vertiflite Nov/Dec 2023). This included the importance of developing interoperable equipment that is agnostic to aircraft type and not proprietary.

At the end of the workshop, attendees were provided a unique opportunity to tour the research and test facilities at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center. The tour included the center’s Vertical Flight Simulation Laboratory, the Propulsion & Air Power Engineering Research (POWER), the More Electric Aircraft Laboratory, the Airport Research Facility, and the NextGen Integration and Evaluation Capability (NIEC). Several attendees took this opportunity to test their flying skills in the FAA’s helicopter simulators.

VFS gratefully thanks the members of the FAA and other speakers and moderators who made the event so successful.

Video recordings of the workshop are available to attendees and all members at no charge. Find out more about the Society’s infrastructure efforts, resources and links to past workshops and videos at www.vtol.org/infrastructure.

About the Author

Rex J. Alexander has over four decades of military aviation, general aviation and commercial aviation experience, and is a globally recognized subject matter expert on helicopter, vertical lift and eVTOL infrastructure. He is the founder and president of the aeronautical consulting firm Five-Alpha (5α) and has served as the VFS Infrastructure Advisor since 2018.


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