An interesting panel on day two of the event was the Government Connectedness: Air Traffic Controllers, but with the focus on the integration of AAM and UAS. Panelists represented ATCOs in different segments of the NAS - Will Hutson - National UAM/UTM Representative NATCA, Jimmy Smith - NATCA National UAS Representative, Capt. Pedro Romano - Airfield Operations Officer U.S. Air Force and Walter Childress Jr. - ATC Watch Supervisor U.S. Air Force. Moderation was led by Eric S. Jennings - Rules and Regulations Group, ATO, FAA. 

One of the challenges raised from the military representatives was that they are not able to see the drones, and this is a priority to be addressed. Today when a request is filed to fly a certain route, they must trust that the drone will actually fly that route as they aren’t able to ‘see’ the route they are flying after takeoff. This means they currently fly their military aircraft and ‘hope’ the drone follows the flight route they filed. One thing they have been able to develop is the ability to tell where the drone launched from, although details as to how were not shared. At least this would allow tracking of a pilot if something were to happen. A concern that was raised on the panel was that many of the individuals working on these detect and avoid solutions don’t come from the ATC side of the industry and have never been in a control tower!

Continuing with the topic of cybersecurity was Randy Hahn - Chief Systems Engineer, Verizon who discussed Telecommunications and the National Airspace System (NAS). Cyber being a key element of a discussion on a mission critical infrastructure. There will be a more detailed feature available this week on Randy’s thoughts.

There was an additional interview with Dr. Parimal (PK) Kopardekar of NASA to consider the current state of AAM. During the event he expressed his wish for the future related to drones, "My personal dream, is to have aviation touch every zip code around the globe. That is actually possible now with new aviation technology like drones." In our discussion we looked at the possibility of AAM transforming our ways of living and working. Different forms of transformation would allow individuals to live further outside of major cities and still have the ability to work at their company location when it was required without untenable and/or costly commutes. This culminates with safety and affordability. Looking at the path for introduction of these aircraft, it will likely follow: cargo with a pilot and visual flight rules (VFR) – autonomous cargo – people on board with a pilot and VFR – autonomous flight with people on board. In order to reach these goals, the topics of vertiports needs to be addressed. Could they be at airports or what about high density vertiports where there are multiple take-off/landing pods? There’s still a lot of work to do, but with exciting opportunities for the future.

Patrick Ky - Executive Director European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) shared an overview of Next Generation ATM in Europe. ATM will also have a more in-depth feature following our 1x1 discussion.

The final day of the event kicked of with a keynote from Nitin Natarajan - Deputy Director Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) discussing Cyber in the Sky. Look for an additional in-depth feature soon to follow.

The event closed with predictions for 2035 panel.  Moderated by Alex Bristol – CEO, Skyguide and panelists David Batchelor - Chief External Affairs & Communication SESAR, Akbar Sultan - Director, Airspace Operations and Safety Program NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), Edward V. Sayadian - Vice President, Division Manager for Transportation Services/E-IDS Leidos and Nazzareno H (Kip) Spurio, Jr - Technical Director, Air Traffic Services Raytheon Intelligence & Space. This was a really interesting discussion of where we are at and what is key for the next 13 years. The panel ended with predictions as to what was the single most important topic that will make a difference in this timeframe:

  1. Information sharing – we heard this before on other panels and it remains high on the list.
  2. Follow the money – FAA funding is controlled by the government, but if overall government funding is cut then this limits the FAA. Maybe this government control of funding shouldn’t be the norm going forward?
  3. Investment in innovation
  4. Digitalisation and connectivity – new digital backbones and NextGen CNS
  5. An ‘instant’ experience for workers similar to their personal communications experiences

I have to give the content for the show high marks. Unfortunately there were too many interesting panels to attend that overlapped, so some topics were missed.