In the midst of economic gloom, a phoenix rising from the ashes is the metaphor that comes to mind when reflecting upon this week’s ongoing Agility Prime Launch Event. Agility Prime is a non-traditional Air Force program with the intent to “accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles.” Leveraging government testing and revenue-generating use cases for distributed logistics and disaster response, the Air Force hopes to catalyze the commercial market for advanced air mobility vehicles or orbs (flying, electric, vertical take-off aircraft) by 2023.
Speaking at the event, Finch Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy in the U.S. DOT, emphasized the importance of rural air mobility for logistics and safety applications in rural areas. He cited statistics suggesting that rural areas have 20% of the roads, but 50% of traffic fatalities.
For instance, aircraft as an affordable substitute for big rigs would certainly reduce deadly collisions. Further, air ambulances would speed emergency responders to crash sites faster than traditional land-based first-responder vehicles. Fulton sees electric aircraft in mass use for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
Jay Merkle, Executive Director, Unmanned Aircraft Systems for the FAA, indicates that his agency is on board with the Air Force’s goal. Merkle indicates that the FAA’s new approach of operating first and then regulating is important for the rapid rollout suggested by Fulton.
Merkle cited this week’s approval of UPS’ Flight Forward service to enable paid delivery of air transport of prescriptions to the senior community of The Villages in Florida as an example of how “operate and then regulate” works.* He encourages innovators to work with the FAA early in the process.
A golden age of aviation, but communities need to be on board #
This is the “new Golden age of aviation,” stated Dr. Michael Romanowski, FAA’s Director of Policy and Innovation, He indicated that the FAA is working with approximately 30 companies on certification for advanced air mobility. Many of the first use cases they are seeing is as replacements for helicopters. Unlike helicopters, these electric aircraft are much quieter and feature redundancy, greatly improving safety.
And safety is non-negotiable, according to Anna Dietrich, Executive Director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI). Beyond proving safety through data, the public must perceive that this new sort of air travel is safer. Echoing our Viodi View interview, Dietrich indicates that this is just one element of the public acceptance that will be needed for advanced air mobility success.
Her message to city planners is that now is time to get ahead of the changes that will impact their cities from this new way to travel. Ultimately, success will be measured by public acceptance and will be seen in the removal of the barriers that separate ground and air travel.