Experts from NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility team have signed agreements with four US states and one city to host a series of workshops that will help governments prepare their transport plans to include cargo-carrying drone and passenger-carrying air taxi services.

The five governments which have signed agreements are Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Minnesota Department of Transportation, North Central Texas Council of Governments Department of Transportation, Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the City of Orlando, Florida.

The co-operative activities will take place throughout the summer of 2022, with each including a series of at least four workshops where experts from the localities and NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) mission will work on updating local plans and creating new ones that might be needed to enable AAM.

Nancy Mendonca, NASA’s deputy AAM mission integration manager, said: “What’s the best way for a local government to implement an AAM system that is equitable, sustainable, and integrated with its other transportation systems? Answering that is a big part of what this is all about.

“We also hope these workshops and any subsequent best practices that are identified will address successful methods for engaging the public in the planning process and generating support for AAM in their communities.”

The entities will include additional partners drawn from local governments, airport authorities and operators, chambers of commerce, universities, vehicle and subsystem manufacturers, infrastructure providers and workforce development organisations.

The workshops will address a wide range of topics related to AAM – from identifying a common set of terms to use in discussions and planning documents, to evaluating potential criteria that might be used in locating future vertiports for VTOL aircraft.

Another major goal for the outcome of these agreements is to develop a ‘best practice’ document around a key topic that other US states and municipalities might follow in developing their own plans for integrating AAM into their transportation systems.

Mendonca added: “Details about when and where these workshops will be held, how the work can be subsequently shared, and how the changing status of the pandemic will influence work under this agreement will be worked out with each partner.”

NASA will share with partners what it has learned so far about the challenges associated with planning for and safely operating new types of aircraft, the ways to approach solving those challenges, and what NASA has in store for future research that includes hosting flight demonstrations as part of its AAM National Campaign.

The National Campaign is a series of flight demonstrations that will bring together aircraft manufacturers, airspace traffic management service providers, and others to show how AAM can safely operate and earn public confidence and support. It began its next phase of testing last month, where a Bell OH-58C Kiowa helicopter provided by Flight Research is acting as a stand-in advanced air mobility vehicle.

NASA researchers also will take what they learn from this new group of partners to refine their research and NASA’s AAM vision and share that information with other industry and government groups involved with AAM, including the Federal Aviation Administration.

Meanwhile, the partners will utilise their planned and existing public engagement forums to provide progress on their current transportation planning and AAM-related efforts.  

The partners also will work with the teams they have assembled for this effort to advance AAM opportunities and operations in areas beyond the efforts detailed in their agreements with NASA.