Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appealed to U.S. lawmakers to work with stakeholders and regional leaders to establish basic standards to create urban air mobility (UAM) networks that are safe, sensitive to local communities, intermodally linked, and accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy. Garcetti—who has worked with the World Economic Forum on UAM principles, as well as other private and public entities to help pave the way for UAM networks—was among a half-dozen witnesses outlining their visions for the future of aviation on Tuesday during a House aviation subcommittee hearing on “The Leading Edge: Innovation in U.S. Aerospace.”
Among others testifying were MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski, who said battery technology is currently sufficient to carry up to nine passengers about 500 miles, and Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl, who estimated that his company’s XB-1 supersonic demonstrator would fly either late this year or early next year.
House aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) called the hearing a “long overdue discussion” to explore promising opportunities with emerging aerospace entrants. “Electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles could reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility options, particularly in dense urban environments,” Larsen said. “However, Congress and the FAA must consider infrastructure, how new entrants will be integrated into an already busy U.S. airspace, and impacts on local communities.”
He said the subcommittee is looking at elements that the FAA should consider in developing vertiport standards for UAM in densely populated areas. Garcetti responded that the FAA needs to co-author these standards with the community. “Access is critically important,” he said, adding that the FAA needs to evaluate ways to create a national standard while also respecting local zoning and land-use policies, building in flexibility with communities.
He also stressed the need for equity, including linking with public transit systems to ensure that a UAM network is “connecting to a system rather than existing above it.”
To ensure that goal, he is assembling a task force that will include representatives from underrepresented and lower-income communities and expressed a desire to build a playbook that could be used not only for Los Angeles but around the world. He pointed to the white paper “Principles of the Urban Sky,” which was published last year and involved 50 public/private stakeholders in concert with the World Economic Forum.
Those principles surround safety, sustainability, equity of access, low noise, multimodal connectivity, local workforce development, and purpose-driven data sharing, he said.
Garcetti stressed the importance of funding for such planning efforts and the need to prioritize studies on integrating UAM into congested airspace around busy airports such as Los Angeles International.
Ganzarski agreed that the future system should be accessible, affordable, equitable, environmentally clean, and quieter. Noting that MagniX’s electric propulsion system is on track for FAA Part 33 certification in 2022, he said it “is a real possibility for smaller all-electric aircraft to start flying people and packages on short routes within the next four years.”
Given current limitations on power, the country should start with smaller aircraft flying smaller routes and progress as technology advances, he said. “With the current state of technology, our president and Congress could set a dramatic and ambitious goal of having all-electric aircraft start carrying passengers and packages for up to 250 miles in range by the end of 2024 and up to 1,000 miles by 2030.”
Today’s batteries are enough to take six-to-nine-passenger aircraft 500 miles, and today’s hydrogen power is enough to take 40 passengers up to 500 miles, he said. By 2030, a 500-mile range with a 100-passenger aircraft should be doable.
However, “our country is falling short…in our reputation for pioneering innovation; falling short of our track record in leading an industry; and in particular, falling short for not embracing two major cultural shifts that are happening both globally and domestically: a shift to democratize demand-driven aviation in a way that makes it available and accessible to all, and a shift to propel clean energy in aviation.” He noted commitments to investing in electric aviation and sustainable travel being made in Europe and said the FAA lacks the resources to keep up with this evolving market. He further asked for incentives for the adoption of these technologies.
Scholl, meanwhile, outlined plans for its path to bringing a supersonic airliner, the Overture, to market. These include first flying the demonstrator by early 2022, if not later this year; breaking ground on the factory to build the Overture next year; launching production of the Overture in 2023; rolling the aircraft out in 2025; and flying the airliner in 2026. “We’re just five years away from having the first American-made supersonic airliner in our skies.”
He expressed the belief that the Overture would be initially operated on transoceanic routes, such as New York to London in 3.5 hours and Los Angeles to Sydney in eight hours.
Scholl stressed the importance of regulatory certainty to facilitate the return to supersonic travel, and also of government backing for sustainability initiatives, such as a blenders credit for sustainable aviation fuel.
Others testifying included James Grimsley, executive director of advanced technology initiatives for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; Skydio CEO Adam Bry; and Pierre Harter, director of research and development of the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University. They covered a gamut of topics from research advancements and the need for continued R&D support to reaching a rural community, STEM development, and why the U.S. has lagged in drone technology.