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EmbraerX: Procedures will be key for Urban Air Traffic Management

Management of eVTOL aircraft over urban areas will need to be grounded in procedures, not technology, according to Embraer’s disruptive business subsidiary, EmbraerX.

EmbraerX has laid out its vision for a procedures-based Urban Air Traffic Management (UATM) system in “Flight Plan 2030,” a new white paper written in collaboration with another Embraer company, Atech, and Harris Corporation, both providers of ATM systems.

EmbraerX eVTOL flying over city
EmbraerX is partnering with Uber on its Elevate aeromobility vision, and unveiled its first eVTOL concept at the 2018 Uber Elevate Summit in Los Angeles. Embraer Image

According to the authors, “the urban airspace of the future will be structured with routes, corridors, and boundaries that will define where UAM [urban air mobility] aircraft may fly. These structures will provide predictability to traffic flows while procedures will ensure that all stakeholders have a consistent understanding of operating rules.”

Althhough communications, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) technologies, artificial intelligence, and automation will be critical enablers of this system, “procedures and airspace structures will remain the foundation of airspace management,” the white paper states.

EmbraerX envisions UATM existing in a layer of airspace between very low-altitude small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operations, and the commercial airline operations subject to existing ATM. According to the white paper, “As the UATM system evolves, it may eventually integrate all UAS operations so that all low-altitude aircraft — piloted and autonomous — operate within a single system. However, for now, we anticipate the UATM system will only manage traffic that primarily flies above sUAS operations.”

Small drone over city
Flight Plan 2030 concludes that the unmanned traffic management systems currently being developed for small drones aren’t appropriate for passenger-carrying eVTOL flights. Embraer Image

Flight Plan 2030 identifies two foundational services that must be established before UAM operations begin. These include airspace and procedure design — creating urban airspace routes, corridors, and procedures — and information exchange: sharing airspace and flight information with all stakeholders. The white paper points out that UAM flights will have far-reaching impacts in their communities, making it “critical” for all stakeholder concerns to be taken into account at the outset.

Once UAM operations are up and running, UATM will provide four operational services: flight authorization, flow management, dynamic airspace management, and conformance monitoring.

The white paper envisions that a single entity, an urban airspace service provider (UASP), will be responsible for managing low-altitude urban air traffic. While some cities or countries may decide to expand the responsibilities of their existing air navigation service providers, others may decide to assign UASP responsibility for each city to a third party.

Concept for urban air traffic controller
In EmbraerX’s vision, while UATM services will be highly automated, human operators will still be necessary to assist pilots during emergencies and off-nominal situations. Embraer Image

“Implementation will inevitably differ between countries, and allocation of authority to a UASP will vary across a spectrum. Nonetheless, a central authority is needed for managing UATM airspace of each urban area and ensuring that traffic flows safely and efficiently using a single flow management plan,” the paper states.

Flight Plan 2030 argues that this centralized, procedures-based approach represents the best strategy for introducing eVTOL aircraft into large urban airspaces where many pilots will still be relying on radio communications.

According to EmbraerX president and CEO Antonio Campello, “Our Urban Air Traffic Management concept ensures equitable and safe access to urban airspace for a broad spectrum of aircraft, including conventional helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and eVTOLs. Flight Plan 2030 presents what we believe are the necessary first steps towards autonomous capabilities.”

The complete white paper can be found at FlightPlan2030.com.

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