FAA releases airspace blueprint for Urban Air Mobility

FAA releases airspace blueprint for Urban Air Mobility

By Scott Simmie


If you’re involved in the world of drones or traditional aviation, odds are you’ve heard of air taxis, cargo drones and the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM.

But what does that mean? And how will it differ from our current skies?

To get started, it’s worth looking at a definition of AAM. We like this one from BAE Systems:

“Advanced Air Mobility is an air transport system concept that integrates new, transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into existing and modified airspace operations. The objective of AAM is to move people and cargo between places more effectively, especially in currently underserved local, regional, urban, and rural environments.”

And these transformational aircraft designs? Well, they include air taxis and heavy-lift drones capable of efficiently moving people, goods and critical supplies from major urban centres to nearby regions. Many of these destinations – certainly initially – are likely to be close to major urban centres but not have traditional airports. Often, those underserved areas have never had enough traditional air traffic demand to support the required infrastructure. Plus, it doesn’t really make sense to fly a plane over a very short distance.

The coming generation of new aircraft, for the most part, will not require runways and will be more environmentally friendly than ground transport. Most of the aircraft under development are electric and capable of vertical takeoff and landing – often transitioning to more efficient fixed-wing flight for the journey. And that means minimal infrastructure will be required. Think helicopter landing pads.

Sustainable electric or hybrid-powered flight, along with the promise of autonomous missions that can efficiently ferry goods through the sky while reducing road congestion, are among the key benefits of AAM.

Below: Volkswagen is just one of many companies developing new types of aircraft for the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility. Some firms are actively testing.

Volkswagen V.MO



The drone and aviation world loves its acronyms. And one that goes hand-in-hand with AAM is UAM – Urban Air Mobility.

UAM refers to the use of Advanced Air Mobility technologies in a strictly urban setting. Picture a major city where you can hail an air taxi to a landing pad, also known as a vertiport, with a phone app. Or where goods are routinely shuttled by drone or other new aircraft across urban skies. That’s what Urban Air Mobility refers to. Think of it as a subset of AAM.

But while UAM offers unique efficiencies and a reduction in ground traffic, it also comes with greater risk than flying goods to regional areas. That’s because these aircraft will be flying over property and people for the entire duration of their missions.

They’ll also be flying at lower altitudes than traditional crewed aircraft, and – eventually – in greater numbers. So regulators are interested in helping to shape the coming UAM (and AAM) eras to ensure a safe system that seamlessly meshes these new aircraft with existing airspace.




In early May, the Federal Aviation Administration – the US regulator – released an updated blueprint of how it envisions AAM will unfold. The Concept of Operation (ConOps) document outlines what procedural changes might help ensure a slow, safe and smooth transition into the coming era.

Transportation is constantly evolving,” it states. “Each step forward yields new opportunities that fundamentally change the relationship that humankind has with distance and travel. While it may not significantly reduce surface traffic volume, UAM will provide an alternative mode of transportation that should reduce traffic congestion during peak times.”

And the driving force behind all of this? Technology.

“Major aircraft innovations, mainly with the advancement of Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) and development of Electric VTOLs (eVTOLs), may allow for these operations to be utilized more frequently and in more locations than are currently performed by conventional aircraft,” says the regulator.

We’ll dive a little deeper in a moment. But the FAA says – in addition to certifying aircraft and pilots – that the blueprint is a “key step” in efforts to move safely toward this next phase of aviation. The blueprint should be of interest to everyone in the industry – particularly those who have plans for moving people and cargo by this next generation of aircraft. The FAA describes the blueprint as a “frame of reference” for itself, NASA, and the industry.

Below: Might Vancouver’s skies one day include aircraft like the one pictured below? Odds are, yes.




So how will the US get from here…to there?

What guidelines or steps are needed to ensure a safe transition from now to then? The key, says the FAA, is to adopt a “crawl-walk-run approach.” In other words, start slowly – very slowly – and integrate these new aircraft in a highly methodical way while building on incremental successes.

“The envisioned evolution for UAM operations includes includes an initial, low-tempo set of operations that leverage the current regulatory frameworks and rules (e.g., Visual Flight Rules [VFR], Instrument Flight Rules [IFR]) as a platform for increasing operational tempo, greater aircraft performance, and higher levels of autonomy,” says the FAA.

That “low-tempo” means you won’t be hailing an autonomous air taxi anytime soon. In fact, when it comes to moving people and goods, fully autonomous aircraft are in the last stage of the FAA’s Concept of Operations.

Here’s a look at the three main phases the FAA has identified, taken directly from the blueprint:

  • Initial UAM operations are conducted using new aircraft that have been certified to fly within the current regulatory and operational environment.
  • A higher frequency (i.e., tempo) of UAM operations in the future is supported through regulatory evolution and UAM Corridors that leverage collaborative technologies and techniques.
  • New operational rules and infrastructure facilitate highly automated cooperative flow management in defined Cooperative Areas (CAs), enabling remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft to safely operate at increased operational tempos.

Below: An EHang EH216 carries out a passenger-carrying, autonomous flight in Oita Prefecture, Japan. The company has already logged 30,000 safe flights and is in the certification process with the Civial Aviation Administration of China. Image via EHang. 

EHang 216



The FAA document focuses on air taxis – eVTOLs capable of carrying either people or cargo. And, in line with its “crawl-walk-run” approach, envisions a phased integration of these vehicles into US airspace.

All aircraft would be need to be certified. And initially, the Pilot-in-Command would need to be onboard and manually flying the aircraft using Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Pilots would communicate with Air Traffic Services, which would be responsible for ensuring adequate separation with traditional aircraft.

The ConOps document also envisions corridors – three-dimensional freeways in the sky that would be set aside for air taxi traffic. These corridors would at first be one-way only, though that would likely change in future.

In the early phases, the FAA believes existing helipads or other current infrastructure would be adequate. But it encourages planners and municipalities to use the best available data and forecasts when determining where to build vertiports.

“State and local governments are being encouraged to actively plan for UAM infrastructure to ensure transportation equity, market choice, and accommodation of demand for their communities,” says the document.

“The vertiports and vertistops should be sited to ensure proper room for growth based on FAA evaluated forecasts and be properly linked to surface transportation (when possible), especially if the facility primarily supports cargo operations. Local governments should also have zoning protections in place to protect airspace in and around vertiports and vertistops.”

As demand – and technology – advance, the FAA foresees traffic management becoming more automated. Data-sharing and detect-and-avoid technology would likely enable the eventual rollout of fully autonomous flights. In that scenario, these machines would operate under what the FAA calls “Automated Flight Rules” – or AFRs.

It’s all part of an evolution that would see the gradual implementation of automation, with people playing less active roles over time. Initially, the FAA says, there would always be a Human-Within-the-Loop (HWTL) – meaning a pilot. That would evolve to a person having supervisory control of automation, known as a Human-on-the-Loop (HOTL).

In a fully mature system, people would simply be notified by automation if action is required. This is referred to as Human-Over-The-Loop (HOVTL), defined by the FAA as follows:


  • Human is informed, or engaged, by the automation (i.e., systems) to take action
  • Human passively monitors the systems and is informed by automation if, and what, action is required
  • Human is engaged by the automation either for exceptions that are not reconcilable or as part of rule set escalation

“UAM operations may evolve from a PIC onboard the UAM aircraft to RPICs/remote operators via the advent of additional aircraft automation technologies,” states the blueprint.

The following FAA graphic indicates the predicted evolution of the UAM operational environment:

FAA UAM evolution



There’s much more to the FAA document, and we encourage those interested to explore it here. But the key point is a slow and measured integration of these new transformational aircraft with an emphasis on safety and human oversight within existing regulations. As technology and data-sharing improve, this will evolve to a more automated/autonomous system with humans involved only if they are flagged to intervene. New regulations will likely evolve as the technology continues to develop.

The FAA released a brief video in conjunction with its blueprint, which hits some of the highlights discussed in this post:



Like many, we see the great potential in the coming Advanced Air Mobility/Urban Air Mobility era. Certified aircraft safely moving people and goods will be faster, more efficient and more sustainable than current ground travel. It could also be a boon to people living in communities currently not served by traditional aircraft.

“We see particular utility for remote and cut-off communities in need of critical goods,” says InDro CEO Philip Reece.

“We always use the crawl-walk-run model when deploying our own new technologies, and believe this incremental approach is the best way to ensure safety and public acceptance. We anticipate Canadian regulators, working with industry and the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium, will be taking a similar approach.”

The new FAA blueprint, though it’s a ConOps document and not carved in stone, does leave us feeling that plans are starting to take shape. We look forward to the slow, steady and successful integration of UAM/AAM in the US, Canada and elsewhere.

If you’d like to do some further reading on AAM – and what’s happening on the Canadian scene – you’ll find that here.

Volkswagen reveals passenger-carrying eVTOL

Volkswagen reveals passenger-carrying eVTOL

Volkswagen is entering the Urban Air Mobility world.

The company’s China division has unveiled it has been working on a passenger-carrying e-VTOL – and says it plans to commercialise it down the road. The prototype is called V.MO and is part of Volkswagen China’s Vertical Mobility project.

“Through this pilot project, we are bringing Volkswagen’s long tradition of precision engineering, design, and innovation to the next level, by developing a premium product that will serve the vertical mobility needs of our future tech savvy Chinese customers,” said Dr. Stephan Wöllenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China.

“This is a pioneering project which our young team of Chinese experts started from scratch – they are working with new design concepts and materials while developing new safety standards, disrupting and innovating every step of the way. Our long-term aim is to industrialize this concept and, like a ‘Flying Tiger’, break new ground in this emerging and fast-evolving new mobility market.”

The ‘Flying Tiger’ nickname refers to the prototype’s gold and black livery – which you’ll see in the photo below. We’ve added a second image with people for scale.


Volkswagen V.MO
Volkswagen V.MO
As you can see, lift comes from eight motors, four on each of the twin booms. Forward thrust comes from two motors. Length of the prototype is 11.2m with a span of 10.6m, so you won’t be landing this in your driveway. Presumably, the commercial version will take off and land from something like a heliport, offering passengers the option to quickly cross a congested city or head to a nearby destination.

“In its final future iteration, the fully electric and automated eVTOL could eventually carry four passengers plus luggage over a distance of up to 200km,” states a Volkswagen news release on the project.

This first prototype appears to be built for unmanned testing and validation. The company says several test flights of V.MO will take place later this year, with plans for an improved prototype to be flying in the summer of 2023.

And what might it look like? Well, probably something like this animation:

Though Volkswagen has plenty of engineering expertise on the ground, making something that flies isn’t really in its wheelhouse. That’s why the company has partnered with Hunan Sunward Technology, a manufacturer of light aircraft and drones.

The press release announcing the prototype made it clear that Volkswagen sees vast potential in Urban Air Mobility and products like these.

“Urban air mobility is a fast-emerging market which aims to utilize air space for short- and medium-distance connections, especially above and between large cities,” it states. “In China, it is set to play a significant role in the future of urban and intercity transportation in its congested megacities. In the first phase of its commercial use, V.MO is likely to be pitched as a premium product for high-net worth tech savvy Chinese customers, for example for VIP air shuttle services. eVTOL air vehicles will be able to transport passengers more quickly and efficiently than current conventional means of terrestrial transport and with greater flexibility. As the Vertical Mobility project develops, Volkswagen Group China will work with the relevant Chinese authorities to achieve certification.”

With the announcement, Volkswagen becomes the latest automotive player to stake a claim in this sector. Honda, Toyota, Aston Martin and others have announced they’re entering the space and have displayed concepts, prototypes or renders of their plans. Hyundai unveiled this Uber Air taxi concept a couple of years back:

Still some hurdles


Will we be seeing these vehicles – in real life – in the years to come?

The answer is yes, but there are still challenges that must be overcome. Urban Air Mobility envisions a future where eVTOLs will transit congested urban centres, whisking passengers who will likely summon these aircraft using mobile apps to nearby take-off and landing sites. UAM will also bring the option of convenient flight traffic between nearby cities where one or both do not have the infrastructure or demand to support traditional fixed-wing aircraft. Plus, the ability to deliver people or goods to central locations in a large city offers a convenience that eludes most traditional airports.

But getting there will take some time. These eVTOLs will face rigid certification, and require a robust Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system/network to ensure there’s no conflict with drones or other forms of aviation. Work on those fronts is underway. In fact, the White House even held a special summit on the topic August 3. The goal of that gathering was to explore “the future of aviation in America and the regulatory strategy towards responsible and equitable adoption of these technologies.”

It’s clearly firmly on the radar of regulators.

Multiple designs, including single-person eVTOLs


There are many different companies vying for a piece of this territory. Perhaps the one with the greatest advantage is China’s eHang, which produces one- and two-passenger autonomous vehicles that have carried out a growing number of autonomous flights carrying people. The company is also apparently at work on a two-passenger, fixed-wing eVTOL for longer-range flights.

The company has already carried out autonomous tourism flights and appears to have a spotless safety record.

Personal eVTOLs


In the Urban Air Mobility world, there are greater efficiencies with aircraft capable of carrying multiple passengers (or heavier cargo loads). But some manufacturers are targeting the single-occupant market. Specifically, they’re building products for people who would like to not only pilot these aircraft, but own them.

The leader on this front appears to be Swedish company Jetson, which manufactures a single-person eVTOL that is flown by the pilot. The Jetson One costs $92,000 US and is in production. It’s unclear how many the company will produce annually, but it has received enough orders that Jetson is completely sold out for 2022 and now taking orders to be shipped in 2023.

We can’t resist dropping in another video, because this actually does look like fun.


And finally…a Canadian connection


We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out another very unique company in this space. It’s called Opener, and its vehicle is the BlackFly. It’s a very intriguing design that was the brainchild of a retired Canadian engineer with a fancy for flight. That engineer is Marcus Leng.

He first developed the concept for the amphibious vehicle (yes, it can land on and take-off from water) in 2009. In 2011, he flew the first proof-of-concept prototype from his front yard in Warkworth, Ontario.

Since then? Well, the company has carried out more than 4,300 flights, covering more than 56,000 kilometres. It has flown manned demo flights at the big airshow in Oshkosh, and is about to release the product for sale.

The cost? There’s not a definitive figure yet, but the company promises it will be about the cost of an SUV. It qualifies in the ultralight category, meaning owners won’t require a private pilot’s license.

And yes, we’re pretty intrigued by this. Kudos, Marcus Leng. Oh – and this video? It’s from back in 2018, so we can only imagine what refinements have been made since then.

InDro’s Take


As we know from our extensive work in the aerial and ground robotics worlds, technology continues to rapidly advance. That translates into better components, flight controllers, battery efficiency, simulations – and, ultimately, reliability and safety.

There is still a ways to go, as mentioned, on the certification and UTM front for many of the multi-passenger vehicles under development. But we do see such aircraft taking hold in the future – offering new and more sustainable options for the delivery of goods and people over short distances.

If you’re interested in this field, we highly recommend you check out the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium. The organization already has some 70 members (including InDro Robotics) who are working collaboratively to help shape the future and work with regulators. Advanced Air Mobility/Urban Air Mobility promises a future of exciting possibilities that will benefit both passengers and communities, particularly since many of these aircraft can be used to deliver critical goods and supplies on-demand and autonomously.

It’s a future we look forward to – and it’s definitely on the horizon.

Advanced Air Mobility: A primer

By Scott Simmie, InDro Robotics


The world of drones and aerospace is laden with acronyms. UAVs, VTOL and BVLOS are but a few of the terms frequently kicked around. But there’s another one that’s starting to gain traction. It’s AAM, or Advanced Air Mobility. We thought it would be worth having a look at what this means, and what the implications are as we head into the future of aerospace: A world where crewed and uncrewed aircraft take on new roles, while safely sharing the airspace.

There are a few definitions of AAM kicking around, but we particularly like this thorough take from Delloitte Insights:

“Advanced air mobility (AAM) – the emergence of transformative airborne technology to transport people and goods in new, community-friendly, and cost-effective aircraft in both rural and urban environments – represents the next inflection point in the aerospace industry’s ongoing evolution.5 AAM is expected to be the next significant change in mobility and perhaps the global economy, as it could lead to fundamentally new capabilities and applications that were previously not feasible. AAM technologies promise to transform how people and cargo are moved…”

Inflection point


So it’s a pretty big deal. And while “inflection point” makes us stand up and pay attention, what might this mean in practical terms? Well, for one thing we’ll see the emergence of a new category of aircraft, the eVTOL. This means an electrically powered, zero emission machine that can take off and land vertically. This eliminates the need for runways and the kind of support services (such as aviation fuel storage, hangars) required at even smaller regional airports. Some of these eVTOLs might require a pilot, but many will operate like drones – carrying goods, or people, without requiring a crew.

We asked InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece what he envisions this new age will bring.

“Having short- to medium-range aerial options for transporting cargo – and even people – will bring multiple benefits: Using electricity or hydrogen for power will be better for the environment and these aircraft will reduce road congestion. It will also expand access for many to regional air travel due to lower infrastructure costs: Think many ‘Vertiports’ instead of large airports.

“Advanced Air Mobility will also boost jobs and skills in new areas, as well as access to resources including consumables and medical supplies. There are many cut-off communities in Canada, including some that do not have year-round road access. The list goes on. While these are only some ideas at the moment, once the communities grow into the infrastructure, new industries and solutions will rapidly come to light.”

This era is coming…

A number of companies are already building and testing such aircraft. One of the best-known is China’s EHang, which is manufacturing the EH-216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle, or AAV. It can carry two passengers or cargo. In a future not too far removed, you might be able to summon this aircraft to a nearby landing pad with a smartphone app (think Uber), and have it deliver you, or critical cargo, from a congested urban centre to a nearby city in minutes.

There’s a growing number of other companies in this field, as well. They include Lilium, Joby Aviation, and Volocopter – to name just a few. Some of the designs – many of which have been made possible by the technology that powers drones – are pretty amazing. (If you’re interested in seeing some of these vehicles, check out this Aviation Today article.)

It’s also worth mentioning Jaunt Air Mobility. Though the company originated in the US, it now has offices and a highly experienced leadership team in Montreal. The company’s patented design is like a fixed-wing helicopter, promising an estimated range of up to 160 kilometres, with a top speed of up to 280 kph. Once in forward flight, the main rotor slows and functions like an autogyro, providing lift while saving energy. Here’s a description from its website:

Jaunt is the global leader in slowed rotor compound (SRC) technology. Our patented technology slows the rotor once aloft (the rotor tip speed equaling the aircraft’s pace) thereby reducing drag and associated vibration. In combination with a small wing sized for cruise, this produces a lift to drag ratio equivalent to a fixed wing airplane providing an exceptionally efficient flight with very low noise. Noise that is practically imperceptible in flight.”‘

Although its video is CGI, the company is *very* real, and the vehicle it’s building is based on a field-proven design:

So that’s one part of the Advanced Air Mobility picture: New, electrically powered aircraft that carry passengers or cargo to nearby communities currently not served (or under-served) because they lack either the infrastructure or the ongoing demand to support more traditional aviation models.

But there’s another piece to this puzzle. And that involves drones.

Drones and Advanced Air Mobility

Smaller Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones) are very much part of this picture. They might be delivering prescription medications or urgent parts, or perhaps even transporting Automated External Defibrillators to the site of a 9-1-1 call (something InDro Robotics has proven in trials). They could even be moving a life-saving organ for human transplant from one hospital to another, reducing time and improving patient outcomes. Plus, or course, there’s the multitude of tasks drones can achieve on the scientific and industrial/Enterprise side of things. (A quick aside: When referring to the use of drones or these new and larger eVTOLs solely within an urban center, it’s often referred to as Urban Air Mobility, or UAM. But UAM and AAM will go hand-in-hand.)

It all paints a pretty exciting picture of the future. But it’s a future the world can’t simply dive into. With more aircraft taking to the skies, often at lower-altitude flights, the runway to this future needs to be methodical. It requires an approach often referred to as “Crawl, walk, run.” As you’ve likely guessed, that means starting out very slowly and carefully, using an incremental approach.

UTM: Uncrewed Traffic Management

One key component in this equation is minimizing the potential for any of these aircraft to come into conflict with one another. And here we get to introduce another acronym: UTM, or Uncrewed Traffic Management. The future requires a system which – through a combination of hardware and software and automation – can seamlessly ensure the skies above (and the ground below) remain safe.

Here, too, there is no shortage of companies and working groups pushing for solutions. Just as surely as vehicles like the EH-216 will one day become routine, a robust and reliable UTM solution – likely involving a combination of software integrated with NAV Canada’s air traffic control, along with detect-and-avoid sensors on aircraft and specific flight corridors – will emerge. But that’s not going to happen overnight.

In this country, a group called the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium has already started planning for the future.

Bringing Advanced Air Mobility to Canada

This isn’t something any one company – or regulator – can do on their own. It requires consensus, collaboration, and a shared vision and commitment. That’s why the Consortium, whose home page image you see below, has brought together multiple partners.

Advanced Air Mobility is a team effort

As the Consortium’s website states: “We’re in this together.” That’s why the Consortium’s members are drawn from across the industry – including representation from academia and government. It would take quite some time to list them all here, but you can find a list of all members on this page. InDro Robotics is but one of many members.

“We’re building an ecosystem of national collaboration towards a sustainable, equitable and profitable Advanced Air Mobility industry in Canada,” states the Consortium’s website. Its goals, it says, are simple: “Zero emissions from Advanced Air Mobility operations in Canada.” Somewhere down the road, says the Consortium, one in five aircraft in Canada will operate with zero emissions.

We asked Chris Howe, the Consortium’s Lead Operating Officer, why he’s optimistic about this new future:

“AAM requires aviation to look outside itself and collaborate with so many innovative new technologies,” he says.

“New energy (electric and hydrogen), engineering (quieter operations), and also connectivity (5G) and advanced decision-making (artificial intelligence) are required to make AAM a safe, sustainable and equitable solution. I’m personally excited to see how this incredibly interdisciplinary industry will work together to get off the ground and solve real problems like emergency medical transportation.” 

The Consortium operates with a commitment to six pillars it believes “are necessary to make AAM an agent of global positive change.”

Those pillars, from the website, are as follows:

Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium

What’s next for AAM in Canada?

Great question. Two key projects are already well underway. The first is to create a Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Master Plan. Phase One of that project is a strategic roadmap that hopes to guide the next 20 years of AAM development in Canada. It will focus on these three areas, which we’re quoting verbatim from the site:

  • Define the unifying national AAM vision for Canada
  • Identify gaps & barriers in accomplishing the vision
  • Create the national AAM implementation Roadmap & Master Plan

Phase Two will get a little more technical. The site says it’s “designed to de-risk AAM operations, coordinate business planning, and expedite technology integration required to activate revenue generating use cases.”

Goals for this phase, in conjunction with regional projects taking place in Vancouver and Toronto, include:

  • Design airspace structure, flight routes, physical infrastructure maps and noise footprints for urban and rural operations
  • Develop Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for specific AAM use cases and integration with RPAS Traffic Management (RTM)

There’s much more…


The Canadian Advanced Air Mobility Consortium website is very well put together. There’s a lot of information there, as well as a standing invite for other stakeholders and interested parties to get involved.

We can’t predict, at least not with certainty, where AAM will take us in the coming years. Certainly there are a number of new eVTOL designs already being tested, with many more under development. There’s no question zero-emission aircraft will be welcome additions in a world under growing pressure from climate change.

There’s also no question that these aircraft will be moving goods and people to areas currently under-served by traditional aviation – and that’s a very good thing.

But there’s one pressing question: When will all this arrive? We put that to Consortium lead Chris Howe.

“Commercial eVTOL manufacturers are telling us they are aiming for certification of their aircraft by 2024,” he says.

“We are working hard to ensure the infrastructure and regulations will allow for safe, sustainable and equitable commercial passenger operations in Canada by 2030.”

It’s a future we very much look forward to. 

And finally…

If you’re interested in reading more on the topic, Howe suggests the following links as good resources:

And a quick PS: The fact InDro Robotics is a consortium member didn’t play a role in this post. We wrote this simply because AAM is coming, and fast. Keep this on your radar.

By Scott Simmie