The Skyport: Most Recent Issue

Below is the most recent issue of The Skyport, sent on May 14. If you like the newsletter and want to sign up, head back to the signup form! (FYI: The next issue will publish in three weeks, on June 4, rather than the usual two week cycle.)

FAA Remote ID Updates; Uber’s Plan for Skyports

I hope you are finding ways to stay healthy, maintain sanity, and make ends meet as this pandemic continues. I wish you all the best and thank you for your interest in this newsletter each cycle.

The Royal Aeronautical Society is sponsoring an eVTOL design competition, its fourth such event, in partnership with the Light Aircraft Association. The premise, emergency hurricane response, is pretty interesting. Here’s the scoop, from eVTOL.com.

The next issue of The Skyport will publish in three weeks rather than two; I’m taking a few days off as I move to Philadelphia. See you then!

Stay safe,

Brian Garrett-Glaser
Skyport Editor
@bgarrettglaser

FAA Targets 2021 for Launch of Drone Remote ID Service

Credit: Airbus

The Federal Aviation Administration is planning to have remote ID service for drones up and running by sometime next year, according to documents provided to me.

Earlier this month, the FAA chose a cohort of eight companies — here’s the list — to develop technology requirements for its implementation of remote ID, working in parallel with the agency’s policymaking process. A critical goal for that cohort is to launch remote ID services through at least one UAS service supplier (USS) by 2021.

Some other noteworthy information from the remote ID cohort’s progress:

  • How will the FAA access remote ID information? Original plans suggested the creation of a “baseline stream” of data automatically flowing to FAA servers, but according to documents viewed by Avionics, the cohort has since abandoned that idea — at least for initial rollout — in favor of a Discovery and Synchronization Service (DSS) defined in the remote ID standard published by ASTM International.Rather than a nationwide unmanned traffic management system, it appears the FAA, along with other qualified agencies and public-facing apps, would query flight information through the DSS from participating USSs based on a grid system.
  • What will the transmission rate be for remote ID information? The draft rule FAA released in December clearly states that a minimum of one message per second is necessary, but the cohort is looking at requiring a transmission rate of “at least once per minute,” according to documents I viewed.At that frequency, the remote ID system will have substantially less functionality, unable to support deconfliction services, provide useful historical data on flight routes, or enable the degree of situational awareness law enforcement and other authorities are hoping to obtain.
  • Should the operator’s location be included? So far, this appears to still be an element of the data captured by remote ID. This may create a compliance challenge and/or safety concerns, particularly if that information is made public.
  • What information will be made public about drones flying overhead? This is a critical question for community acceptance of drones as well as air taxis, and the cohort doesn’t yet appear to have the answers. Documents suggest the FAA understands this, and views enabling the public to understand what is flying above them as a key goal of the remote ID system.

Read more on the build-out of the FAA’s remote ID architecture.

Here’s How Uber Is Designing Skyports for Future Air Taxis

Credit: Uber

Uber revealed some details about its approach to building ground infrastructure for urban air mobility — which it calls ‘Skyports’ — as the company seeks to make progress despite a dearth of industry standards and regulations.

Uber’s Skyport design strategy is requirements-driven, based on existing heliport regulations provided by the Federal Aviation Administration and the design specifications of its vehicle development partners’ aircraft, according to a presentation by Brian Learn, who handles aviation infrastructure for the company.

  • The focus is on renovating parking garages, as they are “existing infrastructure that’s everywhere … typically, you’re going to see the top level of those garages very much under-utilized, if at all. And parking garages generally fit our base level structure and space requirements for the integration of our use,” said Learn.
  • Based on the FAA’s heliport advisory circular and Uber’s internal eCRM-003 “common reference model” aircraft design, rooftop configurations include a fifty-foot takeoff and landing area (TLOF), a 75-foot final takeoff and landing area (FATO) and a safety area around it measuring 108-feet, 4 inches in diameter.
  • Each parking spot will include up to 400kW of DC fast charging, with multiple vehicles charging simultaneously during peak hours. With total peak load requirements “up to about 8 megawatts, that pushes us to think about the use and design of behind-the-meter battery storage” to stabilize utility draw, said Learn.

Although Uber hopes to minimize costs and scale rapidly by producing designs that can be “copy-and-pasted” into different environments, every location and every city will present an entirely new set of restrictions, priorities and challenges for infrastructure.

Read more on Uber’s assumptions and conclusions for Skyport design.

Air Force May Spend ‘Hundreds of Millions’ on eVTOLs Before 2025

Credit: U.S. Air Force

An interesting tidbit of information was shared during an Agility Prime webinar this week: the program’s overarching contracting opportunity, which is open until 2025, gives the Air Force “latitude to award potentially hundreds of millions of dollars” to research and eventually procure eVTOL aircraft and related systems.

With a current budget of just $25 million, that won’t happen any time soon…but the contracting mechanism is in place as eVTOL technologies mature.

A few other bits from the conversation about airworthiness:

  • The Air Force will not seek to certify sub-systems, so developers seeking military certification should get on board an airframe to get it through the airworthiness process.
  • COVID-19 has disrupted testing schedules, which is good news for Agility Prime and eVTOL developers: Air Force facilities that are often booked out months or years in advance now have more availability.
  • Better prediction and modeling tools, which require massive processing power, are needed for operators to scale up operations safely and make go/no-go decisions hours in advance.

Agility Prime team lead Col. Nathan Diller also shared a few new “areas of interest,” in addition to the three already-released, that the service may look to release contracting opportunities for in the near future: autonomy systems, range extenders and alternative methods of propulsion, digital engineering, and foreign nations’ technology and manufacturing capabilities.

Read more on the Air Force’s approach to airworthiness efforts for eVTOLs.

The Funding and Talent Shortfalls for eVTOLs

Military and industry leaders speaking during the Agility Prime kickoff week agreed that funding and available talent are likely to be key challenges for the emerging eVTOL industry.

COVID-19 has disrupted fundraising activities worldwide, and this has hit the eVTOL sector particularly hard. The primary sources of funding for many well-capitalized startups have been strategic venture funds run by traditional automobile and aerospace companies — whose primary businesses are struggling to stay afloat amid massive layoffs.

Most Silicon Valley-based venture capital firms have avoided the UAM space, according to Kirsten Bartok Touw, founder of AirFinance, for four reasons:

  • They prefer software to hardware, eyeing lower development costs and exponential returns
  • They tend to avoid capital-intensive industries
  • Most funds are built around shorter return-on-investment time horizons than promised by the evolution of UAM
  • Venture capitalists see great risk in heavily-regulated industries like aerospace

For DoD, there’s another concern: the source of the capital flowing into defense-adjacent innovation. The Pentagon is working to expand its Trusted Capital system to provide a vetted, “DoD-approved” list of funding sources. Plans are to begin including foreign (allied) sources this coming summer.

HOWEVER: Jennifer Santos, the Pentagon’s industrial policy chief who heads these efforts, was reportedly fired today, potentially disrupting these efforts.

The shortage of talented vertical flight engineers is an equally critical problem. Read more on that, here.

Skyport Reads

Some eVTOL stories to get you through (yet another) quarantine weekend:

Thanks for reading The Skyport! Get in touch if you like the newsletter, take issue with the coverage, or have something to share. Just hit ‘reply’ and I’ll get your note.

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– Brian Garrett-Glaser (@bgarrettglaser on Twitter)

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