NUAIR Lays Automation Groundwork for High-Density Vertiports

On March 5, NUAIR held an all-day virtual conference for more than 70 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and industry professionals to further develop a strategic plan that supports NASA’s advanced air mobility (AAM) efforts. NASA awarded Oneida County this critical contract in August 2020 to conduct research in automation technology to support high-density vertiport operations that facilitate the vertical takeoff and landing of large-scale unmanned aircraft across populated areas.

NUAIR manages the $897,000 task order for AAM and vertiport development on behalf of the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss International Airport. The project team includes Deloitte, Boeing, Crown Consulting, Mosaic ATM, 5-Alpha LLC, Helicopter Association International (HAI) and the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association (GAMA). After eight months of meaningful work, the team opened the floor to their industry colleagues to discuss and gather feedback on the three reports of the project: a trade study, the concept of operations (ConOps), and the software architecture requirements for vertiport automation.

“Oneida County’s long-standing partnership with NASA has proven to be a productive one,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “Together, we have conducted crucial research that has led to transformative advancements in the UAS industry. I look forward to the impact this new collaboration will have on the future of this emerging technology.”

A vertiport is a collective term referring to areas designed specifically for AAM aircraft to take off and land, much like a heliport is a designated area for helicopters. Dr. Marcus Johnson, high-density vertiplex subproject manager, NASA, opened the event by discussing NASA’s overall vertiport research plans, which all stem from the groundwork being developed in this initial project. Robert Bassey of the FAA gave an update on vertiport standards development and research, outlining multiple operational requirements for vertiport facilities including layout designs, electrical needs, and safety requirements. The FAA and NASA meet regularly with the AAM industry for open collaboration in building the future of public air transportation.

Vertiport Design Concepts

Michael Patterson, systems analysis and AAM ConOps lead, NASA, reported on the current maturity level of AAM and gave an in-depth vision of what is needed and what it might look like to advance into the “intermediate” maturity level. This level would consist of complex operations and automated systems, consisting of hundreds of simultaneous flights. Individual aircraft may have the option of being flown by an onboard pilot, flown using simplified vehicle operations or by someone at a “command station” who may be piloting or monitoring multiple aircraft at once.

Project partners Crown Consulting and Mosaic ATM outlined what these “skyways” and vertiport structures might look like, how they would integrate with current airspace regulations and the communication systems needed for safe flight. Air traffic will be a mix of piloted, semi-automated, and fully automated aircraft with multiple vertiport configurations depending on the location and type of operation. Vertiports could be built on top of buildings, be a stand-alone hub with amenities like an airport, or be a simple “vertistop”, intended solely for pick-ups and drop-offs.

After hearing the project group’s concept of AAM and vertiport operations, participants were then divvied up into moderated breakout rooms to discuss the three phases of AAM operations: pre-flight and planning, departure and en route, and landing and surface. Overall, participants felt the concept of vertiport operations “made sense” and the elements outlined within the document was “mostly complete.”

“We had a great turnout, with solid support from NASA and the FAA. The interaction and back-and-forth between speakers and participants was amazing,” said Jonathan Daniels, NUAIR’s chief of strategy, Vertiport Project Lead and event host. “It’s always important to break out of your perceptual bubble and get some outside feedback from the industry stakeholders that will be a part of this new innovative system.”

Contributing partners on this project include: 5-Alpha, LLC, Boeing, Crown Consulting, Deloitte, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), Mosaic ATM, Inc., NUAIR, and Oneida County (New York UAS Test Site). The project team will utilize the participants’ feedback to continue laying the groundwork for the future of advanced air mobility.

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