The Community Air Mobility Initiative Launches to Fill a Gap

Urban air mobility takes air transport from the outskirts of a metro area into the center, creating new challenges. CAMI

Perhaps the term’s now familiar to you: urban air mobility or UAM. But to give it a pilot-centric definition, it’s the three-dimensional air transportation network designed to serve communities, sharing airspace with UAS and drones, but also passenger-carrying aircraft. Though autonomous vehicles are a component (and draw the most attention), they won’t necessarily factor in the early stages—having a pilot on board is part of the movement as it begins.

Working to address what is identified as a missing link between industry, users, and the general public, the Community Air Mobility Initiative launched this week, leveraging the skills of its founders and several key founding partners in helping to shape the UAM landscape. “[We’re] looking to fill a gap that is currently not being served,” says Anna Dietrich, co-executive director. Dietrich is the founding COO of Terrafugia, a company developing a roadable aircraft called the Transition. She stepped back five years ago from Terrafugia to focus on other projects, specifically in public policy, as she saw an opportunity to initiate the conversations that needed to happen. Yolanka Wulff is the second co-executive director of CAMI, and her background as an attorney, and focusing on sustainable aviation, standards development, and public affairs, forms the basis for her involvement in the initiative.

In its current state, air transport is separate from the urban transport landscape. “We leave behind our community environment when we enter the airport,” says Dietrich. The problem in front of CAMI is that UAM is essentially asking aviation to integrate into an urban transport system with its congestion, sprawl, environmental impacts, and noise restrictions. While those areas have certainly been addressed as suburban areas have encroached on airports around the world, UAM requires further integration, because aircraft will form connections not just from the edges of cities, but into city centers. By working with the competing jurisdictions that UAM must coordinate with, CAMI seeks to stay ahead of the issues that inevitably confront this space.

In a press briefing, Dietrich and Wulff used the example of the recently promoted vertiport in Singapore: Its success depends on the distribution and management of vertiports, curbside management, integration with current transit systems, and public/private resources. For example, a building with a vertiport may be on a congested thoroughfare that inhibits the ability to “drop off” passengers at the location to connect with the ground transit.

The pair also noted the significant safety and liability issues confronting the industry: UAM has to achieve levels of safety far beyond automobile levels. “This is not an industry that can make mistakes,” says Wulff. “Safety is very high on the minds of the public and elected officials.”

“The technology is moving forward with UAM aircraft; regulation is a barrier but being worked on—but the highest barrier to this industry is public acceptance,” says Wulff. The founders of CAMI realized there was a need to bridge the aircraft, regulations, and the communities that they’ll serve. “Decision makers and the public need credible information so they can understand the risks and benefits and be empowered to make good decisions for their communities.”

As one of their first projects, CAMI plans to develop a “broadly useful” resource package to deliver to local communities and decisionmakers, and to key associations like the United States Conference of Mayors.

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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