Congress Could Create a Working Group to Address Advanced Air Mobility

NASA’s AAM NC project is a collaboration between the agency, industry, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is funded through 2030 and every two years the campaign gets more complex in operations. (NASA)

The Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act could create an interagency working group of over 10 departments and agencies to advance advanced air mobility (AAM) efforts like safety, infrastructure, and federal investment in the United States, but first, Congress must pass it.

The bill was first introduced as H.R. 1339 in the House by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS) in February of this year. It now sits in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s subcommittee on aviation. The bill was also introduced in the Senate as S.516 in March by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and was passed through the commerce committee in May.

The bill is now headed toward the Senate floor where legislators are hoping it will be ‘hotlined’ and passed onto the House of Representatives, Katie Kentfield, a legislative correspondent for Moran who specializes in transportation aviation and technology issues, said during a Revolution.Aero Global 2021 panel discussion on June 29.

“In mid-May, it successfully passed out of commerce by voice vote, unanimously, so we are hopeful that it will pass similarly on the Senate floor and be hotlined there,” Kentfield said. “So, if a bill hotlines that means that no member within the U.S. Senate would object to his passage, and then, in this case, would be picked up by the House of Representatives. We’re hoping that they’ll pick it up as well and move this effort forward.”

The interagency group created by the bill would be led by the Secretary of Transportation and they would review and put forth recommendations for AAM aircraft. Besides other agencies and departments, it would also incorporate manufacturers, operators, air carriers, airports, first responders, training and maintenance providers, energy providers, and state and local officials.

“It would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to establish a working group with other federal agencies that would plan for the advancement of operating AAM aircraft,” Kentfield said. “This working group but also be tasked to review and make recommendations for the federal role in the AAM sector. Beyond the initial critical stage of aircraft certification and operation, it would focus on economic and workforce opportunities.”

The bill states that it would further U.S. leadership on AAM, grow new transportation options, amplify economic activity and jobs, advance environmental sustainability and new technologies, and support emergency preparedness.

Industry has also expressed support for the bill.

“The industry wants to go here,” Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, said. “We recognize that we’ve always been about on-demand air mobility…Through the years that’s meant lots of changes in technology from radial engines to piston engines to jet engines from fixed-wing rotor wing, aluminum, composite, whatever it is, it’s what technologies can we use to get people where they need to be when they need to be, that on-demand air mobility. I think what you’re seeing is that the industry has been embracing this idea for quite a while. There’s been a relatively clear vision, a lot of brilliant passionate people, and now we’re seeing a lot of capital flowing into the industry so you have all the elements to be able to move forward.”

Bolen said the government is signaling to the industry that what they are doing is important to the nation’s transportation system.

“What we’re seeing in the introduction of Senator Moran’s bill is that we are effectively reaching out to the government and what they are saying to us is, yes, we recognize this is an important part of our future, it’s an important part of our economic engine, our transportation system, our world leadership in civil aviation, and they’re embracing it,” Bolen said.

While the industry is eager to advance this technology, they also realize they will need to be regulated in order to progress safely, Bolen said.

“The companion legislation in the House is really all about is the government beginning to say, we recognize that there is a lot of potential here and we want to help realize that potential, but we want to do it safely and appropriately,” Bolen said. “That’s where NBAA and other groups are working closely with the government itself to try to make sure that there’s broad-based understanding on what we’re trying to do and how we can do it safely and, again, get people where they need to be when they need to be there.”

The departments and agencies that would be part of the working group include the Department of Transportation, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Labor and the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“I think one of the important reasons by making certain that this is an interagency working group that incorporates up to 10 agencies, and even more if the Secretary of the Department of Transportation sees fit, is to make certain that we’re doing our role within the federal government to make sure that we can help this industry advance,” Kentfield said. “We don’t want to be a hindrance whatsoever. So, if we can get the ball rolling now and have those conversations with industry folks and stakeholders of this industry, then I think we’re better off long term.”

If passed, the bill would create this working group within 120 days and complete a report no more than a year later to examine how AAM will mature, its physical and digital security and safety requirements, infrastructure, benefits, and other factors limiting the full potential of the industry.

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