The advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure legislation passed earlier this month by the U.S. House of Representatives is aimed at ensuring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) keeps pace with AAM technology developments, according to the congressman who sponsored the bill and guided it through the House.
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington state), chair of the House Aviation Subcommittee, told eVTOL.com that he believes the FAA fell behind on drone technology development and he worries the same will happen with AAM.
“We in Congress need to send a clear message to the FAA that the agency needs to keep focused on finding ways to integrate advanced air mobility into the airspace,” Larsen said. “Companies all over the country, all over the world are seeking to develop these platforms. The technology is ahead of where the regulation is and I don’t want the FAA to be in the position where we were with drones, where the technology got well ahead of where the agency was and then the FAA just sort of fell behind. I think it harmed U.S. leadership in drone integration.”
The Advanced Aviation Infrastructure Modernization Act was passed by the House in an overwhelming 338-73 vote on June 13 with support from the Aerospace Industries Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International and the National Business Aviation Association, among others.
There is a companion bill pending in the Senate with differences from the House bill that would have to be reconciled before the full Congress could send a bill to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature into law.
“I don’t put odds on legislation passing,” Larsen said, but he pointed to the broad bipartisan support his bill garnered in the House.
“It comes down to members of Congress recognizing that advanced air mobility is moving forward, and the federal agencies and local planners need to prepare for the integration of these platforms into the airspace,” he explained. “We’ll talk to those folks in the Senate and see if we can get things moving.”
The House bill is structured to give local land-use planners, government agencies and airports access to $25 million worth of grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation and FAA funded via the legislation.
“Local transportation agencies, whether they be land-use planners or local airports owned by local governments, need to start thinking about how to integrate AAM into their planning,” Larsen said.
He acknowledged some communities will not be interested in AAM, and structuring the legislation as a grant program is a way for Congress to push AAM infrastructure development without dictating solutions to various states and local governments that may have very different AAM infrastructure development needs.
“Not everyone is going to choose to develop the infrastructure to support advanced air mobility, but we do want relevant local agencies to start looking at what they can provide and then, based on their own assessments, go to the FAA in order to access dollars to help with more robust planning,” Larsen said. “I think the way we structured the bill gives the FAA a little bit more time to develop its planning as well.”
This includes the FAA issuing engineering guidelines for vertiports, for example, he explained.
“The challenge the FAA faces is keeping up with the technology and keeping up with the companies that are investing in these platforms,” Larsen said. “That’s the larger challenge the FAA faces at this point.”