Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is bringing about some of the most important change to aviation since the appearance of the jet, roughly 70 years ago. AAM is a new transportation concept that uses innovative aircraft designs and flight technologies to move people and cargo and perform services more efficiently. Advances in electric propulsion, battery storage, advanced manufacturing and autonomy will enable aircraft to fly new types of missions that may transform society, as reported by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Urban Air Mobility is one of the most notable and advertised examples of AAM. Electric vertical and take-off and landing (eVTOL) air taxis have been tested in Paris. There’s a chance that they might be transporting passengers during the Olympics next year. According to the WEF, the first such eVTOL taxi services will most likely be limited in numbers and restricted to ‘premium journeys’. In other words, it won’t be an everyday transportation option for most people. Before that can happen, increased automation and digitization of the air traffic control system are needed, as well as greater autonomy of the aircraft, including the deployment of remotely supervised, autonomous aircraft.
The WEF’s Global Future Council of Autonomous Mobility, in which Honeywell participates, looks at the different challenges involved in the responsible development and deployment of autonomous mobility. Some people have raised concerns over what impact the effect unmanned vehicles may have on society. Supporters of the model argue that many aircraft functions are already automated, with high precision and integrity autopilots being used today.
Flight control systems guiding planes often operated without much human intervention. According to the WEF, onboard automation, ground-based positioning and communication infrastructures offer the possibility to land widebody airliners safely in challenging conditions, such as when the visibility is not optimal.
Routine aviation tasks, such as monitoring onboard systems functions, conforming to simple air traffic control instructions, and separation management, will become increasingly automated. This would relieve pilots from operational burdens and reducing the risk posed by human error and fatigue. Pilots would in any case remain in control, even if they are not in the vehicle.
According to the WEF, autonomy will not be limited to air taxis. At Honeywell’s Second Annual Advanced Air Mobility Conference, aviation autonomy companies presented their perspectives on how autonomous flight can substantially enhance safety, expand access to underserved communities, and replace humans in dangerous or unpleasant jobs.
Many of these applications also represent early opportunities that allow more limited autonomous flight systems to be fielded rapidly to create impact and economic value today. For example, The variety of applications keeps growing. Autonomous drones, for instance, are being used to assist in search and rescue efforts and assess critical infrastructure. These could soon be complemented by larger autonomous aircraft for firefighting or agricultural purposes; they are some of the most dangerous jobs pilots do today.
AAM engineers at Honeywell believe that while commercial airliners may never become fully autonomous, there could be an opportunity to simplify, automate and backup pilot functions to make aviation safer, more cost-effective, and more accessible.
At this point, there are different views among stakeholders about the pace and extent to which autonomy will continue to evolve within aviation. Safety, however, remains key. Within this context, the WEF is launching the Advancing Aviation Innovation and Autonomous Technology for Everyone (AVIATE) initiative.
This global effort will help stakeholders accelerate the realization of the benefits of autonomous aviation and ensure its responsible adoption. AVIATE will bring together relevant stakeholders from industry, government, academia and civil society to shed light on key issues related to autonomous aviation and help shape a safer, more accessible and sustainable aviation ecosystem that works for everyone.