The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

U.S. Electric Aviation Pioneers Seek Federal Backing for Zero-emissions Efforts

A December 13 letter from an alliance of 15 advanced air mobility (AAM) pioneers to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was polite but firm. It called on the Biden Administration to significantly up its game in prioritizing the quest for zero-emissions aircraft or risk not only failing to meet its stated net-zero objective for 2050 but also seeing the U.S. industry lose ground to rivals in Europe.

The letter is signed by Airbus, Ampaire, Archer Aviation, Beta Technologies, Bye Aerospace, Eve Air Mobility, Joby Aviation, Lilium, Overair, Signature Flight Support, Skyports, Supernal, Vertical Aerospace, Wisk Aero, and ZeroAvia. Interestingly, five of these companies are based outside the U.S. However, what is more striking is the absence of Boeing and other major U.S. aerospace groups like GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, and Honeywell.

The group called on the U.S. government to put its money where its mouth is, pointing out that the European Union has committed more than a billion euros to research and development projects into zero-emissions technology, including electric and hydrogen propulsion. On top of this, the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute has committed £685 million ($842 million).

“We believe that the United States must act quickly to invest in these new technologies that will create jobs and decarbonize the aviation sector,” declared the signatories. “These investments can take many forms: ensuring emerging technologies are eligible for the energy investment sections of the Inflation Reduction Act; development of enabling policies within the upcoming FAA Reauthorization; and greater direct investment into the research and development of zero-emission aviation platforms.”

The reference to the next FAA Reauthorization process is significant as the amount of funding approved under this legislation could be critical to ensuring that the U.S. aviation safety regulator is adequately resourced to deal with work such as the type certification of new eVTOL aircraft and establishing the rules under which they will be permitted to operate. But the letter from the 15 AAM backers makes clear that they want the federal government to dig deeper still and release more research and development funding than has already being committed by NASA and the Pentagon.

In September, U.S. House of Representatives aviation subcommittee Chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) told the Honeywell Air Mobility Summit in Washington, D.C., that he expects the next reauthorization bill to provide new levels of backing for the AAM sector. However, he was speaking before the midterm Congressional elections in November, which resulted in the Republican party taking control of the House.

In October, President Joe Biden signed the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act into law. The act requires secretary Buttigieg to establish an interagency working group within 120 days, which would mean by around mid-January 2023.