The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

U.S. Lawmakers Look To Build Advanced Air Mobility With FAA Reauthorization Bill

Congressional leaders are planning to provide “clear direction” to the FAA on preparing for the emerging advanced air mobility (AAM) segment in the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill, House aviation subcommittee leaders said today. Speaking during a Honeywell Air Mobility Summit in Washington, D.C. on September 21, U.S. House of Representatives aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) said he expects that the upcoming funding bill would contain a title on fast-emerging sector to make sure that the FAA is properly organized to focus on the regulatory and operational requirements in a timely fashion.

The reauthorization bill provides funding authority for the agency and typically serves as a vehicle to address a range of aviation issues. Since the last such bill covered a period through the end of Fiscal Year 2023, Congress will work on the next reauthorization package in the coming year.

Larsen did not provide detailed specifics on AAM provision but said with new entrants provisions would be about “finding a way to set up some foundational parts of how to facilitate advance mobility—so, including the infrastructure side and the leadership and coordination side.”

He added, “We need to start putting some basic building blocks into the FAA’s thinking and what other agencies are thinking about AAM integration,” and noted that a subsequent reauthorization bill, possibly in 2028 “may be a full-fledged AAM bill. So, we have to start to put these building blocks in now. “

Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), the ranking Republican on the committee, agreed and further stressed that Congress needs to ensure that the FAA modernizes its approach so it is not applying a 1970s approach to regulation to 2030s technology. He added, though, that Congress also needs to be thoughtful about what it assigns to the FAA in the upcoming reauthorization bill to ensure the agency has the capacity to address AAM.

“We need to make sure that we are very thoughtful and deliberate about what it is that we're asking them to do,” Graves told attendees at the Honeywell forum, and added. “What you all are doing is transformative. We are taking an agency with a regulatory structure, with an organizational structure, and candidly, expertise that is designed for a different era.”

Rather than simply loading the FAA down with new requirements, “I think it's incumbent upon us to do a good job prioritizing…and figure out what we can deprioritize or take off the plate that currently is there.”

Larsen agreed and expressed concern about early plans that had considered new entrants as research and development (R&D) and to place them in that box within the FAA. “The message from me and from the subcommittee was: ‘No, AAM is not R&D anymore.’ To the FAA it might be, but to the rest of the world [AAM] is operational.”

The FAA needs to reorganize to focus on ensuring these technologies become safely operational, he said, continuing, “and not as an R&D project, not as the thing that's next, because the thing that's next isn't this thing. These things are the now.”

Along with safety, also Larsen noted a range of other issues such as electric charging stations and vertiport infrastructure. However, he deferred his response when asked about comments reported on AAM user fees. Both Larsen and Graves did say they believe the upcoming bill would be bipartisan.

Also on Wednesday, House Advanced Air Mobility Caucus leaders Jimmy Panetta (D-California) and Jay Obernolte (R-California) discussed the importance of educating Congress about AAM, noting this has been a pivotal year for the sector and lawmakers should focus on what they can do to enable it to ensure the U.S. maintains a leadership role.

“2022 has been a remarkable year for this industry,” agreed NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, who moderated the panel, noting the formation of the caucus in June.