On The Radar
Nearly three years after the FAA released its original concept of operations (ConOps) for urban air mobility (UAM), it has revised its guidelines and issued an updated blueprint for how it envisions eVTOL air taxi operations integrating with the National Airspace System.
“The operational blueprint is a key step—along with certifying the aircraft and pilots—in the FAA’s effort to safely usher in and support this next era of aviation,” the agency said in a statement. “The blueprint aims to provide a common frame of reference to the FAA, NASA, and industry to help guide their research and decision-making.”
When the FAA released its UAM ConOps Version 1.0 in June 2020, it requested feedback from industry stakeholders and government organizations like NASA to help flesh out and refine the blueprint. The new ConOps 2.0 document is “an iterative progression of work in the development of the concept that will be continued to mature through ongoing government and industry stakeholder collaboration,” said Paul Fontaine, associate administrator of the FAA’s NextGen program.
The FAA’s ConOps predicts that early eVTOL air taxi operations will use existing helicopter flight corridors and helipads to support a small number of infrequent flights that will follow the same rules as any other aircraft flying today. As more air taxis become operational, they could begin flying in their own designated corridors, starting with one-way routes to help avoid collisions, according to the ConOps. Before those flight corridors can support two-way traffic, aircraft manufacturers and operators must demonstrate the ability to maintain a safe distance between aircraft in flight.
In the 33-page ConOps 2.0 document, the FAA has added clarification about how it sees the current regulatory framework supporting initial UAM operations, and it provides new details about how the designated UAM corridors will function and evolve over time. To characterize the evolution of UAM operations, the updated document now includes a new framework defining initial, midterm, and mature state operations based on a list of key indicators. Those indicators include the tempo of flight operations, the complexity of UAM infrastructure, regulatory changes, and the level of aircraft automation.
The revised document also adds a section describing in detail what the FAA calls “cooperative operating practices,” or COPs, which replaces a section in the ConOps 1.0 titled “community business rules.” In the updated ConOps, the FAA explains that COPs are “industry-defined, FAA-approved practices that address how operators cooperatively manage their operations within the cooperative UAM environment, including conflict management, equity of airspace usage, and [demand-capacity balancing].”
Fontaine explained that future editions of the FAA's UAM ConOps document “will provide a broader and more comprehensive vision of our shared partnership for UAM operations based on feedback and continued collaboration surrounding this iteration of the UAM ConOps.”