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Urban/Rural Aerial Mobility: Enabling a Safe, Secure and Inclusive Sky

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Urban/Rural Aerial Mobility: Enabling a Safe, Secure and Inclusive Sky 
Davos, Switzerland
Thursday, January 23, 2020

Urban Air Mobility is one of the most exciting areas of emerging technology today.

These vehicles have the potential to create new mobility options for millions and change how people travel to and around cities, as well as to and from rural areas. This potential has stimulated billions of dollars of investment in UAM technology.  On January 8, 2020, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.  During my visit, I participated in a first-of-its kind roundtable on the future of Urban Air Mobility co-hosted by the Consumer Technology Association and the Aerospace Industries Association.

Let me share some thoughts about how the United States—specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation-- is approaching this technology.

First, as with every other mode of transportation, safety is our Number One priority.  UAM aircraft, and the infrastructure that supports these novel operations, will require a level of safety commensurate with the complexity of any operation that engages in passenger carriage for hire. So the commercial availability of UAM technology in the United States will depend upon companies developing robust, reliable, and technically capable designs that have been shown to be compliant with the applicable airworthiness and safety regulations. 

As you know, Urban Air Mobility vehicles are not helicopters or scaled-up drones. They are complex systems involving infrastructure, new systems and new aircraft.  A segregated approach to airspace integration may work for initial, low-volume operations resembling existing helicopter corridors in large urban areas.  But a long-term solution that accommodates hundreds- if not thousands- of these air vehicles operating simultaneously over urban landscapes is a complex challenge.  It will involve advanced concepts in Air Traffic Management Systems and Trajectory Based Operations, to name a few. 

The Department’s FAA will be working with state and local governments and stakeholders over the next two years to define the requirements for these unique types of operations. Let me note that, consistent with this Administration’s approach to new technologies, the FAA has shifted from prescriptive rules to performance-based regulations. This approach will ensure that, as UAM technology and operations evolve, federal regulations will strengthen safety but be agile enough to grow with the technology. The Department will continue to work with industry stakeholders to identify the challenges, gaps, and opportunities associated with UAM.

Let me add one more thought to this discussion.  To be fully deployed, UAM technology must first win the public’s trust and acceptance.   UAM systems will be flying directly over-- and landing near-- neighborhoods and workplaces.  So it is imperative that the public’s legitimate concerns about safety, security, noise and privacy be addressed.  I challenge the UAM industry to step up, and educate communities about the benefits of this new technology and win their trust.  It is critical to ensuring that UAM technology reaches its full potential. 

Thank you.