AI & Autonomy, Air Taxi, ATM Modernization, Unmanned

Boeing and Wisk Release Concept of Operations for Urban Air Mobility in the U.S.

By Jessica Reed | September 20, 2022
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Boeing and Wisk released a concept of operations for integrating urban air mobility services into the airspace this week. (Photo: Boeing and Wisk)

Boeing and electric air taxi developer Wisk unveiled a concept of operations this week that includes recommendations for deploying and integrating urban air mobility (UAM) in the United States. Wisk, which is developing an autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, is backed by both Boeing and Kitty Hawk Corporation.

Boeing made a $450 million investment into Wisk in January to support the development of Wisk’s Cora eVTOL. Earlier this year, Wisk released another concept of operations as part of a long-term partnership with UK-based Skyports, a company that designs and develops vertiports. The ConOps lists requirements for advanced air mobility (AAM) infrastructure to enable safe, autonomous eVTOL services. 

As joint venture partners, Wisk and Boeing also collaborated with the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA to develop the roadmap for UAM released this week. Aurora Flight Sciences, SkyGrid, and other industry partners participated in the effort as well. 

The document describes the process of safely integrating uncrewed aircraft into the national airspace by 2030 and proposes that safe and affordable UAM for all should be a foundational principle. Other recommendations are to automate these aircraft in order to reduce the burden on air traffic controllers and pilots, and to ensure support via onboard and ground-based automated systems.

The ConOps covers key principles for uncrewed UAM aircraft, third-party service providers, vertiport management, and airspace infrastructure. The authors of the document define public acceptance of highly automated UAM operations as the most important factor for scaling the market.

“Fostering public acceptance of UAM will be a crucial component to scale the market and justify the business case,” according to the ConOps. “It will be crucial for industry to work with local cities and economic development organizations to effectively evaluate, plan, and implement the changes required to safely integrate UAM in the airspace.”

Keyholes—designed carve-outs—in terminal airspace eliminate tower controllers’ responsibility for overseeing the airspace above vertiport locations. The figure above suggests that a vertiport further away from an airport would not need a keyhole, while vertiports placed close to an airport may require keyholes. (Photo: Boeing and Wisk)

Wisk CEO Gary Gysin commented in the announcement by Boeing, “The important work we’re sharing today provides a stepping stone in the advancement of UAM in the U.S. and the world. This document offers the most comprehensive framework proposed to date with a vision for enabling UAM in the national airspace.”

To fully enable UAM, evolutionary and pragmatic methods are required, according to the ConOps. The document also recommends creation of vertiports and other new types of infrastructure for UAM aircraft. Boeing and Wisk propose that the industry will need fleet operations centers to ensure safety. Air traffic control instructions can be implemented from these centers, and supervisors stationed there can each monitor multiple flights simultaneously.

The ConOps from Boeing and Wisk outlines the key stakeholders for establishing and integrating UAM into the national airspace. These stakeholders include the flying public and community; regulatory agencies such as the FAA and EASA; trade associations; standards development organizations; the UAM industry (OEMs); research and development testing agencies; and policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels.

Brian Yutko, Vice President and Chief Engineer of Sustainability & Future Mobility at Boeing, stated, “We’re working to enable a future of aerospace that is safe, sustainable and at scale. Uncrewed operations will be fundamental to realizing that vision, and we have to exceed the current safety standards for the air transportation system.” 

Yutko added that the teams from Boeing and Wisk believe this ConOps will shape the future of UAM operations and will influence public stakeholders along with government, policy, and regulatory stakeholders as the industry grows.

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