On Jan. 13, 2020, the Transportation Research Board hosted a panel discussion, “Automation Technology and Transportation,” with senior transportation officials to talk about automation technology in the transportation space. Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) joined two deputy assistant Transportation secretaries to talk about various new technologies and the rulemaking processes governing them. The panelists discussed automated driving systems, self-driving cars, unmanned aircraft systems, and the spectrum allocation for these new technologies.
On the panel, Jay Merkle, the Executive Director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, spoke about UAS and UAM. An excerpt of his comments are below, as transcribed by C-SPAN. His passage on UAM notably stated, “We have at least six [UAM] aircraft well along in their type certification….”
Our prescriptive rules, we’ve had to look at them, and look at what was the real safety intent behind that rule, and then derive from that safety intent the ability to find a safe operation for the drones. Probably our best example of this is the current prescriptive rules for commercial aviation, require that the pilot have the manuals for the aircraft on board the aircraft. Now, we could certainly digitize all of the UAS manuals, and we can certainly put that digital form of those manuals on the drone while it was flying around. But those manuals would not really be accessible to the pilot when he or she needed them. And that’s what we learned from they don’t construction of this rule, was the real safety intent was to have the information available to the pilot. So we’re able to go back and reconstruct that, and say okay, how in the remote pilot situation do we make that available to them? We are in the third of three years for the integration pilot program. We have nine of our ten original partners, that are still doing very robust operations. It is progressing faster than I think we even predicted it would. And probably the best example of the pace of change that we are seeing comes from our ups flight forward authorization of their commercial, or on demand air carrier certificate. This time last year, January, last year, they were proposing flights, that could occur. In March, we started operating flights under our small UAS rule, and by the end of September, we had figured out how to take that operation and turn it into a commercial air carrier. So for those of you who aren’t as familiar with aviation and its regulatory processes, a manned aviation air carrier with a known aircraft, typically takes about two years. So in the course of roughly nine to ten months, we started from concept to air carrier. And that really is a result of this very innovative program that the department and the office of science and technology have been so supportive of. So we continue to investigate the societal and the economic outcomes of this program. But probably the biggest piece that is coming out of this, and is really the lesson learned for future unmanned aircraft, urban air mobility, and I think all of these automated technologies, is community engagement and community acceptance. We have found that the more work we put into that early on, the quicker we get these safe operations not only up and running but we start seeing the real economic and societal benefits from these. The public has a lot of questions about these technologies. And if you don’t engage the public, with a robust program, then they tend to make up their own answers, as to what you are doing or what you are not doing, and how it benefits them, or how it doesn’t benefit them. And so I think for the small UAS, and I’ll talk later about urban air mobility, the biggest lesson learned out of all of this work has not been the underlying technology, but it’s really been how do we engage the public and help them embrace these very innovative technologies? We’ve seen in other countries where they didn’t do as good of a job embracing the community, that that community was very quick in shutting down those operations, so that’s a real advantage that we’ve seen here. So the IPP, or the integration and pilot program, as I mentioned, will terminate in October this year. There is one aspect of this that we will continue to work with our partners on, and that is unlocking the economic and societal benefits of the beyond vision line of sight through safe operations. And primarily this is ensuring that the aircraft continue to be air worthy, durable and reliable, and then also working to determine, detect and avoid, which in today’s manned aviation system, a pilot prays a function called see and avoid, where the pilot is responsible for seeing other aircraft and avoiding them. Well, obviously, these drones do not have a pilot on board. And the remote sensing technology in terms of an extension of the human eyeball is really not particularly great at avoiding the other aircraft. And that, those, the technology of detect and avoid, and aircraft, reliability and durability, will be the things that we continue to work on with our partners. But we aren’t stopping there. You may have heard that we have issued another set of proposed rulemaking for what I think will probably be the most significant rule in the drone community that we will see in the next ten years, and that is remote identification. Remote identification is essentially a license tag, like you would have on your car, but an electronic version, and it’s associated with your drone. This technology is vitally important for ensuring that we can safely evolve the ecosystem around drones. It is also vitally important for our security partners, our defense partners, and local public safety officials. One of the great challenges with drone operations today is if someone is operating an aircraft outside of the conformance of the rules, it is very difficult to track them down to identify them and to find the operator. And remote identification will allow drones to see other drones in the air space, so that they can operate safely among each other, it will also allow public safety and defense officials to determine the identification of that drone, and the location of the operator. Now, the personally identifiable information will not be available to the public. You will only, you will have to have actual credentials to be able to get that, so police departments and aviation, safety inspectors and such, will have it. But others will not. I strongly encourage you, if you’re interested in this area, to please go comment on the rule. On the public comment period, it will close on March 2nd, and it is absolutely important that we hear from you, on your ideas, about remote identification.
And so with that, and hopefully you will comment very quickly, I want to close with some thoughts on the next very, very innovative piece of technology that we see emerging, and that’s urban air mobility. As I mentioned, these are aircraft that fill that void from 30 miles to 300 miles, between the small drones and the commercial aircraft we know today. And probably the biggest question I get on this is, is this real? Are they really happening? Yes, this is more than just hype. This is more than just promotional videos. We have at least six aircraft well along in their type certification, which is the first step in introducing the new aircraft into operation. We are beginning to work on integrating them operationally, so the pilot requirements, the airline operating requirements, and then were also beginning to work on the air space integration as well. It will drive a far more multi-modal approach than the small UAS have in the past, and that’s why working with the net counsel and others, were very excited in seeing how we bring all these technologies together. It is both a cargo component and a human transportation component. Particularly for the human transportation component, most of the business models rely on taking people from some hub area, in an urban or suburban area, and transporting them across congested surface congestion, to another hub area, where you can then meet up with short-range surface transportation. And one of the popular ride-sharing companies is doing some business modeling right now with traditional helicopters, and on their application, you can connect with a ride sharing or even their scooters.
So we think that’s going to be a very important area over the next few years, and we see that as we solve the problems with small UAS, and beyond visual line of site, we’ll be turning more and more of our attention to these urban air mobility. And so to that end, we are continuing and starting to work on community engagement. This will be a particularly new challenge for us. Because with small UAS, they don’t require very large landing areas. They don’t require much infrastructure to support them. They’re largely battery-powered or the larger versions are either traditional fossil fuel or hybrid battery fossil fuel, but these urban air mobility, tend to be electric driven and have tremendous power requirements for recharging. There are problems that i should say, there are needs to solve certain problems, associated with getting people to and from these aircraft. The best example is they want to use space on top of existing buildings, as landing areas. And most elevators don’t go to the roof. So they will have to redesign elevators to get passengers up to those areas. And to get them up there safely, and without interrupting other activities. So this is a brief overview of all of the very exciting and innovative things that are going on in aviation today. And I think it matches well with what we’re seeing emerge in the surface transportation areas, and the other areas of research. So again, thank you for your time and attention. And look forward to your questions.