Pushing through the hurdles of low altitude flight
19 June 2014, 9:45 p.m. EDT
by Jessa Foor, AIAA director of marketing
We are in a very exciting time for those involved in the commercialization of low altitude vehicles. Within the next 1-5 years, full integration into the commercial airspace will happen. As knowledge of the benefits of these technologies advances among early adopters, there is increased public interest and rising demand among large commercial businesses. So what’s the biggest roadblock? Regulation, of course.
These were among the main topics discussed at Thursday’s panel, “Getting Ready for the Next Billion Dollar Aerospace Industry – The Low Altitude Frontier,” held at AIAA’s AVIATION 2014.
Moderators of the session were Parimal Kopardekar, manager, NextGen concepts and technology development project, NASA Ames Research Center, and B. Danette Allen, chief technologist for autonomy, NASA Langley Research Center. Panelists included Jesse Kallman, global business development and regulatory affairs, Airware; Andres Lacher, UAS integration research lead, The MITRE Corporation; David Maroney, principal systems engineer – civil UAS integration, The MITRE Corporation; Rose Mooney, executive director, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership; Mark Moore, aerospace engineer, NASA Langley Research Center; and Alex Stoll, aeronautical engineer at Joby Aviation.
The session started with Moore and Stoll showing their latest transformational vehicle and some electric propulsion aircraft concepts. The two went into detail about system capabilities in a new world of three-dimensional travel. Moore used the example of commuting in Silicon Valley, where it’s common for a daily trip to take well over an hour each way. With new options for personal transport, many geographic and scarce-resource restraints would virtually disappear. Stoll talked about the importance of building the value proposition for this multi-billion (some say trillion) dollar industry. The concept he presented took an 80-minute trip from Connecticut to New York City and reduced the travel time to 8 minutes, potentially getting the consumer to the desired destination 10 times faster than by car.
Next, Kallman, Mooney, Lacher, Maroney and Kopardekar each talked about how – even with strong support for UAS traffic management (UTM) system research and development – the industry is facing an incredible hurdle: regulation. Mooney commented, “Engineering is fun, and we get a lot done quickly. Regulation is slow.” She later added, “Keep pushing and keep dreaming!” All of the panelists agreed that regulation is fundamentally established to mitigate risk, and that, in the case of UAS, the “pilot in command” becomes the main question in risk mitigation. What happens when the person who has final control and responsibility over the small UAS is beyond the view of the aircraft? Questions like this will likely delay the rule that the Federal Aviation Administration says will be out by year’s end. But for now, unmanned aircraft can only be used for entertainment and competition when flown in low altitude.
The complete session is available through AIAA’s livestream.
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