The rise of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is shaping the way we move and build.
Air mobility vehicles are set for rapid and radical growth in the decades ahead. Morgan Stanley currently estimates the industry will top $1 trillion by 2040, and more than 150 companies currently have UAM and AAM projects in development, making testing ecosystems like the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) a real-world proving ground designed to support innovation and cross-market collaboration, essential.
Testing demand for air mobility is growing
In addition to the challenges presented by the vehicles themselves, the industry faces a variety of real-world challenges around integrating into the National Airspace System (NAS).
Ecosystems such as the AllianceTexas MIZ provide the perfect environment to iterate UAM and AAM technologies among traditional air traffic. In addition to complex airspace, the MIZ offers the ideal infrastructure to test and scale new technology once it is ready for commercial use. As airport-to-airport and city center-to-airport routes gain traction for UAMs, this will be extremely important.
Future-proofing infrastructure and policy
Technology is revolutionizing nearly every aspect of infrastructure. And the emergence of UAM and AAM vehicles introduces a new set of challenges that will shape design, operations, and regulations long-term.
Vertiports — purpose-built facilities explicitly designed for AAM operators — will create a need for infrastructure that traditional landing facilities can’t meet. New infrastructure requirements, like integrated charging systems, will provide the power needed to safely, quickly, and efficiently charge aircraft and ground-based electric vehicles that will transport passengers and goods. Additionally, future vertiports will need to accommodate a much higher volume of traffic, making location, noise contours, and approach and departure paths an essential part of the design equation.
While incorporating vertiports into existing airports seems like a logical fit, it also presents a new range of challenges, including equipment and aircraft storage, emergency response capabilities, aircraft maintenance, and the risks associated with high-capacity electrical equipment.
However, regulatory certification and compliance will be the first and most significant hurdle. Industry standardization affects the R&D, production, and market-readiness of new technologies; therefore, it has a significant, collective effect on innovation, productivity, and market structure. At this point, the UAM and AAM industry has not defined the standards that will influence the vertiport of the future or the type of activity and scalability needed to support it.
Building effective relationships with regulatory agencies will play an important role in shaping the future of airspace mobility. Working directly with regulators to understand and forecast infrastructure needs will ensure the rules we create remain relevant and effective as the industry continues to evolve.
As UAM and AAM vehicles enter a period of rapid growth, real estate and workforce availability will be crucial to ensuring managed, organized adoption.
“The availability of talent is a key focus for us,” says Christopher Ash, senior vice president of aviation business development at Hillwood. “An employee shortage in any industry is serious, but especially in an area as complex as the supply chain. AllianceTexas and the MIZ are positioned to recruit first-class talent who have an understanding of complex airspace issues, aviation technology, 5G connectivity, and the other core skills that surround cutting-edge aircraft technologies. Without that, you simply can’t move forward in an organized manner.”
Innovative ecosystems like the MIZ offer aviation companies the tools, partnerships, and infrastructure needed to safely test, scale, and sustain growth. The MIZ’s unique infrastructure also meets the requirements needed for secure and reliable air traffic management.
The manufacturing challenges that stand between UAM and AAM vehicles and widespread deployment go far beyond aircraft assembly. In 2020, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency issued a report recommending that vehicles comply with the reliability standards used by commercial aviation — which means that the threshold for probability of failure is one in a billion hours of flight. Achieving this requires extensive testing in environments that duplicate real-world scenarios.
Built-to-purpose landscapes like the MIZ help meet the requirement. With more than 27,000 acres, the MIZ offers a variety of urban, residential, and industrial environments. The constant stream of cargo and business flights allows for a close examination of the solutions needed to successfully integrate vertiports with general airports. The MIZ also provides charging, electrical generation, and other basic services manufacturers need to transform how people and cargo move.
UAM and AAM vehicles need manufacturing facilities and cross-industry collaboration to take shape. But the evolution toward widespread usage requires more. Existing facilities like the MIZ, and others are leading the way in meeting these challenges head on by providing the infrastructure, space, and testing environments the industry needs to rise above the obstacles that lie ahead.