The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects to scale up urban air mobility (UAM) operations through the use of defined “UAM corridors” in which aircraft will operate without direct involvement from air traffic control (ATC).
That’s according to version 1.0 of the FAA’s “UAM Concept of Operations” (ConOps), released by the agency on June 26. The document provides an initial roadmap for how the U.S. might achieve high-volume urban air taxi operations while maintaining the safety of the national airspace system.
Developed with input from NASA and industry and community stakeholders, the document outlines a “crawl-walk-run” approach. It assumes that initial UAM operations will use eVTOL aircraft that are certified to fly within the current regulatory and operational environment with an onboard pilot.
As the tempo of UAM operations increases, the FAA will establish performance-based airspace structures with defined dimensions, called UAM corridors. Aircraft operating within the corridors will still have pilots onboard, but will also be equipped to exchange information with other users of the corridor in order to deconflict traffic without relying on ATC.
Eventually, the FAA anticipates the system evolving to the point where UAM corridors form a complex, high-volume network through which UAM aircraft will fly autonomously.
A key element of the ConOps is the existence of “providers of services for UAM.” These “PSUs” will provide services to support operations planning, flight intent sharing, strategic and tactical deconfliction, airspace management functions, and off-nominal operations. They will exchange information with other PSUs via a network that enables safe, efficient operation within the UAM corridors without involvement by ATC.
The ConOps describes a sample use case in which a UAM operator would receive a customer flight request, determine that conditions are acceptable for the operation, and then submit “operational intent” information — a proposed flight plan — to the appropriate PSU.
The PSU would then evaluate this operational intent for other operations that may cause a conflict, compare it against known airspace constraints, identify the availability of UAM corridors and UAM aerodrome resources, and identify any adverse conditions in the operating environment. If there are no issues, the PSU will approve the operation and share information about the flight with the rest of the PSU network.
“The majority of the planning actions and information exchanges between the UAM operator and PSU are automated and are expected to take very little time from the initial customer request to the confirmed UAM operational intent,” the ConOps observes.
According to Steve Bradford, the FAA’s chief scientist for Architecture and NextGen Development, this first version of the ConOps is the initial stage of “a work in progress.”
“The concept will be continuing to mature and modified through ongoing government and industry stakeholder collaboration,” he writes in an introduction to the document. “The results of those collaborative efforts will be integrated into future editions of UAM ConOps, that provide a broader and more comprehensive vision of our shared partnership for UAM operations.”