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6 Things the State of Illinois Needs to Do to Advance AAM

The ‘Land of Lincoln’ charts a course toward Advanced Air Mobility

Illinois is a midwestern U.S. state.

Illinois in the midwestern U.S. is known as “The Land of Lincoln.”

Home to nearly 9,000,000 people, metropolitan Chicago is, theoretically, an urban air mobility (UAM) air taxi operator’s dream. Or at least it would be, were it not for Chicago’s brutally cold winters. Winter temperatures average at, or just above, freezing during the day and -5°C (about 20-25°F) at night. And, then there’s the wind. In case you didn’t know, Chicago’s nickname is The Windy City.
But Illinois is much more than an urban hub. With approximately 27 million acres of farmland (about 10 million hectares), much of Illinois is rural. That makes it prime territory for drones to spray and inspect crops.
Researchers at Northwestern University in conjunction with the Illinois Center for Transportation recently conducted a SWOT-type (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of how Illinois can best prepare for this next iteration of mobility.
In Advancing Air Mobility in Illinois, the researchers determined six tasks lay before them:
  1. An examination of the current and projected state of the AAM industry, including pertinent regulations, technology advancements, and key industry players.
  2. Identifying the potential scale, operational profiles, and safety considerations of AAM within Illinois.
  3. Addressing the diverse geographic and operational environments across the state, encompassing urban, suburban, rural, intra-regional, and inter-regional areas, as well as congested and uncongested airspace.
  4. To explore how AAM may influence Illinois’ overall transportation system, including surface and aviation components. The surface transportation system aspect involves investigating potential vehicular traffic impacts, shifts, and reductions, while the aviation system aspect includes assessing the interaction with unmanned aircraft systems, helicopters, and low-level traffic as well as airport access and routing considerations.
  5. Enabling infrastructure and facility requirements, such as communication, surface transportation access, landing facilities, power and fuel availability, and utilities with state-level policy and regulatory recommendations and how they align with federal and state statutes in the Illinois Aviation System Plan.
  6. Conducting a high-level assessment of potential impacts, encompassing economic, social, and environmental aspects.
The researchers identified two AAM use cases:
  • AAM as a mode with the focus on transporting people and/or goods
  • AAM as a tool in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure construction and inspection, and emergency services
Focusing on these scenarios, here are some of their key findings and a summary of what the potential impacts AAM may have in Illinois:
        • Air traffic management and congestion
        • Increased air traffic from AAM and UAM operations may strain existing air traffic management systems.
        • Integrated airspace management is required to prevent congestion and ensure safe operation
        • Integration with airports and facilities
        • Adaptation of existing airports and heliports for AAM and UAM operations may be necessary.
        • Coordination between traditional aviation operations and AAM/UAM at airports
        • Airspace management and deconfliction
        • Shared airspace mandates effective deconfliction systems to prevent collisions between traditional aircraft and AAM/UAM vehicles.
        • Airspace integration and coordination
        • Effective coordination between AAM operators, traditional aviation stakeholders, and air traffic control will be essential to manage airspace congestion and ensure seamless integration while minimizing disruptions to existing aviation activities.
        • Airspace design and segregation
        • As AAM operations expand, airspace designers and regulators may need to consider new airspace design concepts, including vertical corridors and dedicated routes for AAM vehicles. Proper segregation of AAM traffic from existing aviation operations will be crucial to ensure safety and minimize disruptions.
        • Airport access and routing considerations
        • AAM could impact airport operations by introducing new access points for passenger pickup and drop-off. This may require adjustments to airport layouts, infrastructure (e.g., need for charging infrastructure), and routing procedures to accommodate AAM operations without compromising traditional aviation activities.
        • Regulatory framework and certification
        • Regulatory agencies must develop certification processes for AAM and UAM aircraft that ensure safety alongside traditional aviation.
        • Regulatory alignment is crucial for efficient operations and safety.
        • Pilot training and workforce including:
        • Specialized training is needed for pilots and operators of AAM and UAM vehicles, distinct from traditional aviation training.
        • Skilled workforce development must consider the unique requirements of AAM and UAM operations.
        • Economic opportunities and challenges
        • Traditional aviation companies may face increased competition from new AAM and UAM providers.
        • Opportunities arise for economic growth through job creation and business development in the aviation sector.
        • Insurance and liability
        • Insurance and liability frameworks must be adjusted to address the introduction of new AAM/UAM vehicles and their potential risks.
        • No unique AAM airspace structures or dedicated AAM airspace corridors are expected to be implemented by 2028. The responsibility for aircraft separation will continue to rely on the see-and-avoid principle. Addressing airspace usage and route structure is vital to ensure the successful integration of AAM operations, uphold safety standards, and promote efficient utilization of the airspace while accommodating the anticipated growth of AAM in the near future.
The 21st State prepares for the 21st Century
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) second Concept of Operations (2023b) foresees a gradual adoption of these protocols as AAM and UAM demand increases. The study concludes that the unique airspace structures or AAM corridors envisioned in Innovate 28 (I28) won’t be implemented until 2028. Consequently, hazard avoidance, such as see-and-avoid, will remain the order of the day at first. AAM will come to Illinois, just resembling short, ‘puddle-jumper’ hops more than than one transcontinental, long-haul flight.
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Dave Clarke

Dave Clarke is a California-based writer who is fascinated by the way technology changes our lives.