Lost amid the dramatic push for – and final securing of – passage of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure draft law last week was the vote approving of another bill designed to have far-reaching consequences for the country: the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act.
Just how big are the stakes shaping quickly developing advanced air mobility (AAM) tech and services behind the legislation? The bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday was not only introduced by sponsors on opposite sides of the often seemingly unbridgeable chasm separating Democrats and Republicans, but was similarly passed with support across the aisle. The companion bill cleared in the Senate earlier this year was tabled, moreover, by Republican Jerry Moran and Kyrsten Sinema – the Arizona Democrat who tends to sit, Sphinx-like, all on her lonesome while vexed members of both parties struggle to figure out what she really wants.
But her legislation S561, along with last week’s H.R. 1339, may become the foundation of broad governmental preparation for AAM activity beyond the Federal Aviation Administration’s previous oversight. True, due to differences in the two texts, the version cleared by the House must be returned to the Senate for passage – or be re-tweaked and returned to the lower chamber – so it’s not yet a done deal. Yet given the bipartisan support it has enjoyed up to now, final passage of the bill in some similar form seems likely.
So what will it actually do if it becomes law?
The bill directs the Department of Transportation to establish an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) interagency working group to plan and coordinate efforts related to the safety, infrastructure, physical security, cybersecurity, and federal investment necessary to bolster the AAM ecosystem in the United States. Advanced Air Mobility refers to an air transportation system that moves people and cargo between places using new aircraft designs that are integrated into existing airspace operations as well as operated in local, regional, intraregional, rural, and urban environments.
For readers who tend to frown on government involvement in any aspect of life and business, that will probably come as bad news. But consider it from this perspective: Given the economic and safety stakes in rapidly emerging future aviation activities, some degree of governmental orchestration and regulation was inevitable. Therefore, it’s arguably better for that planning to begin as soon as possible than be put on a backburner as a (to some) necessary evil whose belated arrival would wind up slowing the entire process down.
That is clearly the view of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), which backed the bill from its inception.
“The Advanced Air Mobility sector is on the verge of transforming the future of aviation with the introduction of electric and hybrid powered aircraft into the national airspace system,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA’s president and CEO. “(This bill) will ensure that the federal government develops a coordinated approach for promoting this innovative sector of aviation which will facilitate additional transportation options, create jobs and economic activity, advance environmental sustainability and new technologies, and support emergency preparedness and competitiveness.”
Once the law is passed and signed, the interagency must be formed within a 120-day period, and will begin consulting with all actors in the AAM sector while it defines the role the government should take in overseeing its diverse activities. In addition to evident aircraft certification criteria, the new agency will also examine economic and job creation potentials, feasible safety and data security risks, and infrastructure development requirements.