Urban Air Mobility Safety: Demonstrating the Safety of UAM Vehicles

By Percy Sanford, UAM Leader

With the growing congestion of city streets, organizations like Uber and NASA have been working to redefine urban transportation. While current vehicles are limited to ground level, urban air mobility (UAM) is trying to take advantage of unused airspace to address this issue. While UAM is receiving a massive amount of support throughout the industry, it also faces several different challenges. One of these, that is crucial to achieving both regulatory approval and public adoption, is the ability of UAM manufacturers to demonstrate urban air mobility safety.

Challenges for Urban Air Mobility Safety

In order to become a viable option for urban transportation, UAM needs to be able to guarantee the safety of both its passengers and anyone along the path of travel. Providing these guarantees will require UAM manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with safety standards.

As aircraft, UAM will be subject to the same safety standards as traditional commercial aviation. However, UAM manufacturers will also be expected to demonstrate compliance with safety regulations specific to them.

Aircraft Safety Standards

One of the biggest safety challenges that UAM faces is meeting the safety standards of the aviation industry. Flying is one of the safest ways to travel, with an expectation of about 0.6 fatal accidents per million departures.

Accomplishing this took the airline industry decades, but UAM will be expected to meet or exceed these standards in a much shorter amount of time. As a result, UAM designers and builders will need to implement the necessary safety precautions and redundancies to ensure that UAM vehicles, or vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, can operate safely even under highly unusual circumstances.

Specialized UAM Certifications

Several VTOL manufacturers are developing both hybrid and electric versions of the aircraft for the UAM market. This is and will continue to be a challenge as these specific aircraft will be operating in an environment very different from traditional aviation. Unlike airplanes, which spend most of their time traveling through empty airspace in rural environments, UAM vehicles will be operating in crowded urban environments.

The designs of UAM vehicles will be tested based upon a variety of different criteria specific to their unique situation:

  • Maintaining Airspace: UAM vehicles will have to demonstrate the ability to maintain sufficient space between themselves and all other objects in their environment. This will require certification of both sensory and communications systems.
  • Constrained Takeoffs/Landings: UAM vehicles must perform vertical takeoffs and landings in an urban environment. With the unexpected winds in these environments, vehicles will be certified based upon their ability to remain on course and to abort landings if necessary.
  • Remote/Autonomous Piloting: UAM vehicles may be remotely or autonomously operated. Manufacturers will have to certify that they can operate properly under failure conditions.
  • Flight Readiness Certification: Remotely piloted vehicles must be certified as flightworthy before each trip, and pilots/operators must demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skill to operate the vehicles.

In order to achieve the necessary certifications, UAM vehicles will have to be able to demonstrate their ability to operate safely under both normal and failure conditions. This requirement means that UAM manufacturers will have to implement highly redundant systems and meet certification requirements demonstrating that these systems are trusted to ensure the safety of passengers and bystanders within their operating environments.

Meeting Urban Air Mobility Safety Challenges

UAM is a new but rapidly growing industry. Both UAM manufacturers and regulators are engaged in the process and actively working to define the requirements and standards that will be used to ensure that these vehicles operate safely.

Regardless of the details of the UAM safety regulations, UAM manufacturers will need to be able to demonstrate that all components of their systems meet stringent standards. Organizations operating within the UAM space should prioritize achieving compliance as part of their product roadmap.

The challenges faced by UAM are large, but when innovative companies come together great things happen. Performance brings more than 20 years of safety-critical systems and software development and extensive airworthiness validation experience to UAM. If you are a UAM innovator and want to know how Performance can help you, contact Performance Software today.

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