Transitioning AAM Into Reality at AIAA AVIATION Forum Written 28 May 2024


Originally published by AUVSI


The 2024 AIAA AVIATION Forum will be held 29 July–2 August in Las Vegas, and this year’s event aims to bridge the gap between visionary concepts and tangible technological reality. 
Starr Ginn, Advanced Concepts and Partnerships at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, served on the forum’s Guiding Coalition. AUVSI met with Ms. Ginn to learn more about NASA’s participation at AIAA AVIATION Forum and the Agency’s vision for how Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) will transform aviation’s role in the everyday movement of people and goods. 
Ginn’s Background and AAM Expertise
Ms. Ginn has 27 years of experience conducting one-of-a-kind flight tests. Since 2011, she has played a critical role at NASA Armstrong to develop a roadmap for the AAM ecosystem. In her current role, she builds long-term strategies for complex system integration in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and industry. 
She recently led the planning, development, and execution of the Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign (AAM NC) series, which consists of flight testing an experimental AAM ecosystem of novel eVTOL and cargo vehicles, infrastructure, and airspace management technologies in the context of increasingly complex safety scenarios enabled by automation. 
In parallel to her work on electric propulsion and energy storage, she has also pushed research and certifiable automation software architectures to increase the safety of crewed and uncrewed aircraft.  
In addition, she is a proponent for encouraging young women to get into aviation and mechanical engineering careers. As she works with university students and interns at NASA, she says, “It’s exciting to see when they learn about this new area of opportunity” with AAM careers.
Big-Picture View for the AAM Ecosystem
NASA has been working continually on UAM Research Roadmaps assessing where industry is and making sure NASA is providing research to assist them in the near term, mid-term, and long term.

The Agency’s objective is to safely support operations at scale in the National Airspace System (NAS). Ms. Ginn explains her vision of tens of thousands of air taxis and cargo aircraft operations in existing airports and new locations that are closer to urban areas. Reaching this vision will require a lot of new certifiable automation, new airspace tools and routes, and increased digital communications that integrate into the very safe airspace system the U.S. has today. 
In the nearer term, Ms. Ginn sees NASA being able to help in a variety of areas, including: 

  • Piloted eVTOL operations and safety systems 
  • Studying human-machine interaction 
  • Making operations more efficient at current airports 
  • Supporting portable charging infrastructure to support electric flight before large-scale charging infrastructure investments are possible 
  • Determining efficient routes and how we can decrease an IFR approach area 

In the longer term, Ms. Ginn says NASA is conducting research on automation. More research on 1:N operations and how they will push the envelope of NASA’s vision for UAM. She described how industry is doing a “crawl, walk, run approach” to certification, starting with piloted cargo operations with 2 pilots. Eventually, as the industry transitions to increasing levels of autonomy, there will be opportunities to increase efficiency – but there will also be challenges to prove safety and compliance via detect-and-avoid and flight path management. 
AAM Certification, Automation, and Software Considerations 
Considering what’s ahead for software and automation, Ms. Ginn says, "I would really like to look at how multiple algorithms being operated at same time, and how automation software can determine which of those algorithms is eminent or most important to safely avoid a hazard.” Software for ground collision avoidance, air collision avoidance, geofencing, and object avoidance like towers are all using different kinds of algorithms relying on different sensors. Ms. Ginn is interested in how software architecture determines which algorithm is needed to protect the vehicle at any given moment and how the system switches between different inputs and algorithms prioritization.  
Ms. Ginn emphasizes that autonomy software must verifiable, deterministic, and predictable to be safe enough to fly in the NAS. This will be a challenging and complex state of operations for both NASA and industry to achieve.  
2024 AIAA AVIATION Forum Theme Email SignatureThis year’s AIAA AVIATION Forum will host discussions on how AI can help keep pilots or aircraft safe – beyond just those on the vehicle. The session will explore ways that AI is being used across the entire aviation ecosystem, from ATC to pilot training, as well as the software concepts behind these types of AI. 
Register now for AIAA AVIATION Forum 
2024 AIAA AVIATION Forum will feature participation from every NASA site, with representatives sharing AAM research on different use cases, from regional cargo operations to urban air mobility operations, to different types of aircraft configurations and control systems. In addition to AAM, NASA experts will also discuss hypersonics, supersonics, and sustainability.  
 Register for the event here and save before the Early Bird deadline on June 10th.