UAM – Commercial Air Transport Dynamics and Operation Models
By Captain Mark Trotter
Whenever the term Commercial Air Transport (CAT) comes up in aviation it seems so formal, and I am sure people often question why have such a formal term for flying in an airliner. The simple answer is all about the regulatory framework that lies behind that term.
When operations are carried out under CAT rules, there are a bunch of regulations that the operator must abide by that are primarily in place to ensure the safety of the passengers and the operation. The rules have evolved over time and are now quite comprehensive and are a big part of why we have such a safe aviation industry. All airlines operating under CAT must abide by these rules.
So what does this mean for Urban Air Mobility operational models as we see it today? If we view the core element of UAM as an air taxi service, carrying passengers for commercial return – then we are operating as CAT and all relevant regulations will need to be adhered to. In fact, this is currently the case for any helicopter operation that wishes to operate commercially, so I see no reason why UAM will be any different. The implications are that each element of the UAM system must comply with the same CAT standard that we have within airlines and airports. Let’s look at each one more closely:
Booking and Ticketing
As much as Uber has modernized and certainly changed the commercial ground taxi world, it is still very different when it comes to purchasing an airline ticket. There are many different rules in place regarding ticketing of scheduled passenger flights and chartering of flights. These are all factors that will need to be reviewed as Apps such as Uber and the like are prepared for the world of UAM. The Airline world often sees some very cheap airline tickets and they are the staple of low-cost-carriers around the world. The advancements that these airlines have made in their mobile applications will provide the UAM market with a better starting model.
The UAM aircraft will need to fully comply with relevant performance and safety measures. This will largely be taken care of during the certification phase with oversight being provided by the regulatory authorities. What it means is that as passengers we should be equally safe regardless of whether we are flying a B777, A350 or a UAM vehicle. The key point is that regardless of the size, the CAT rules will need to be applied.
Under standard commercial regulations Vertiports are effectively treated like small airports. The challenge will be scaling the requirements to fit different sizes of Vertiports but at the same time ensuring the key elements of the regulations are maintained. These relate primarily to the safety of the operation and in specific the separation of the operating area and passenger areas, security screening and passenger check-in, boarding and disembarkation. We would envisage that much of these elements will use good design and modern technologies to ensure the process is fast and effective.
Airways in the Sky
The concept of an organized airway is not new in the airline world. The planned and approved air routes crisscross the sky and cover most of the planet. This is not something the passenger is aware of or even needs to be concerned with. The point is, they are there, and they are used routinely by all CAT flights. The challenge awaiting the UAM world is developing a similar system but in a much smaller and more complex scale. Each country and city will have different requirements and geography to deal with. The expectation is that the volume will increase significantly and that eventually the UAM will be autonomous. This means some very robust systems will need to be developed and implemented over the coming years. The key once again, is that the same level of safety is maintained as any airliner has flying on any air route around the world.
The good news is that the UAM evolution will take time and start small and with aircraft that have pilots. This will give the industry time to develop and test the systems needed for the longer-term vision.
For UAM carrying passengers for commercial gain we can be assured that the commercial air transport rules will apply. The entire ecosystem will need to follow this process and every aspect of the passenger experience will be governed by these rules. It is also comforting that the aviation systems that have been developed and fine-tuned over the last 100+ years will form the baseline for this exciting next chapter. You could argue that this perhaps complicates the overall process but, in the end, it will ensure that as passengers, our safety will be looked after.
In our next article Mark will discuss the UAM commercial air transport and operational models.