Advanced Air Mobility: Gaps and Mitigations — Why we need brand new updates in Digital and Physical Infrastructure?

P.C. NASA Smart city landscape using data and reasoning fabric

By,

Wassaf Akhtar | 02/12/2021

Before the mass scale ushering of AAM Landscape, cities and municipalities must be educated on the empowerment of current legacy systems which cannot support new technologies. To do this, private and public sectors must envision themselves as a cohesive party bringing together the bits and pieces of the puzzles and weave different gaps of AAM eco system. This would be not easy at all as engineering a new industry requires an evolutionary approach. This blog highlights what the current gaps are and mitigation strategies to advance the 1.4 trillion dollar industry by 2041.

Gaps

  1. Energy Grid

Interviews and research indicate a key gap in understanding how to scale vertiplaces is understanding the capacity and distribution of the energy grids that currently exist in cities. With high throughput operations using eVTOLs, it is anticipated that there will be significant demand on the energy grid. Powering aircraft independent of traditional fuels will result in increased demands on electricity to charge the aircraft’s batteries. Energy grid capacity and resilience is another challenge. Energy is not equally distributed throughout most cities and the demand on the grid posed by AAM aircraft will likely require some degree of reinforcement.

2. Energy Replenishment Facilities

Capability gaps surrounding energy replenishment technology stands to be a challenge in scaling AAM and vertiplace development. Experts have told us for this technology to scale, energy replenishment will need to be automated to minimize aircraft time on the pad. The two primary proposals for energy replenishment have been “battery swapping” by physically removing a depleted battery from the aircraft and replacing it with a charged battery, or “quick charging” by rapidly charging the battery itself. Technology to enable these capabilities is still in the early stages of development but is necessary to enable scalable AAM operations.

3. Vertiplace Footprint and Space Constraints

Vertiplaces, particularly vertiports located in urban settings, are inherently limited in size. For example, a vertiport in an urban environment may be limited by the layout of the city and not exceed the size of a single city block unlike in rural area (As seen above). In such cases, the entire vertiplace operation is limited due to space constraints in urban environments. While it is anticipated that much of the maintenance and storage of AAM aircraft will occur in vertihubs and other facilities that are removed from the urban centers of cities, everyday support for the aircraft, such as aircraft and battery charging infrastructure, light maintenance, and possibly some aircraft storage, will all need to occur within this limited footprint.

Many of the most high-profile use cases for AAM envision use of aircraft in urban areas where space for new construction is at a premium and adapting existing structures to accommodate AAM may be challenging given preexisting surrounding structures.

4. Ground and Spaced-Based Navigation Infrastructure

P.C. Autonomy institute

Industry experts noted that AAM will require ground- and space-based navigation infrastructure to enable safe and efficient operations with increased required navigational performance compared to what is available today. For example, Ground Based Augmentation Systems (GBAS), which can be used to enhance position sourcing for manned aircraft, is costly and designed for operation in an airport environment where space constraints are accounted for in the original design of the airport. In contrast, many vertiplaces, especially once operations begin to scale, will be adaptations of existing infrastructure with surrounding structures that likely predate the vertiplace.

5. Cargo Handling Facilities

AAM cargo handling will require significant investment in automated cargo handling technology. Today, cargo loading and unloading is done manually by humans; however, given the volume of traffic anticipated as AAM operations scale, these functions will need to occur via automated means. This can be challenging as automated cargo loading and unloading may have aspects that are unique to each aircraft if not standardized. Standardization would require cooperation between multiple manufacturers and equipment designers, many of which have indicated they are hesitant to share their designs.

6. Passenger Management Technology

P.C. NASA

Managing passenger flow in a congested vertiplace presents challenges. Active helicopter traffic areas are often lightly trafficked by passengers as charter operations typically peak at a handful of passengers. High-tempo operations at a vertiplace may present new challenges to safely navigating passengers to and from aircraft, similar to those passenger management challenges faced at airports. Adding to this complexity is the vertical transportation component that would be needed at many elevated rooftop facilities to provide the required conveyance to move passengers from the ground level.

Mitigations

Gaps pertaining to physical infrastructure include challenges with the energy grid, energy replenishment, vertiplace footprint, navigation equipment, and passenger management. Mitigations that came up include:

Energy Grid Capabilities:

  1. Collaboration and partnerships between vertiplace developers and energy companies early-on in the development or conversion process of vertiplaces is paramount to ensure that the vertiplace is not an undue burden on the community and is successfully able to accomplish its mission.
  2. To understand the load on the power grid, a better understanding of the energy demands of AAM aircraft is necessary. Given many of these aircraft are still in the R+D phase, this would likely require partnerships between aircraft manufacturers, energy companies and infrastructure owners.

Energy Replenishment Facilities:

  1. To address energy replenishment, vertiplace developers need achieve a more thorough understanding of the energy demands of AAM aircraft and the necessary facilities to restore energy. Estimates of how many batteries will need to be charged per day, storage requirements, and other relevant information to appropriately design structures that can accomplish efficient energy replenishment via battery swap, quick charging, or some other future method.
  2. Vertiplace developers have told the research team that to address space limitations, vertiplace developers need to understand the needs of the aircraft operators and the demands of the consumer to understand how much space must be allocated to the operation and upkeep of the aircraft as well as the amenities, waiting areas, and security of the passengers.

Vertiplace Footprint and Space Constraints

  1. To address the varying degree of geometry and dimensional requirements necessary to accommodate differing types of eVTOL concepts, aircraft manufactures will need to work with and supply performance data for their concepts to standards development bodies. By providing this information, it will allow physical infrastructure developers to develop the necessary facilities to accommodate their aircraft.
  2. Vertiplace Footprint and Space Constraints: Vertiplace developers can explore vertiplace designs that create additional space without extending the footprint, such as multi-level designs.

Ground and Space-Based Navigation Infrastructure:

  1. Industry stakeholders told the research team that PSUs, aircraft manufacturers, and vertiplace operators are working closely with FAA to advise on new ground and space-based system systems that will be needed.

Cargo Handling Facilities:

  1. Aircraft manufactures told the research team that modularization can address some of the cargo handling challenges. Collaboration among industry to standardize container specifications could allow for interoperable automated cargo handling.

Passenger Management Technology:

  1. This is an area ripe for automation. Passenger management can leverage many of the technologies being developed for traditional airports, such as automated entry and exit gates and guided pathway lighting to help passengers navigate their way to their aircraft.

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