When people think of aviation, they usually think of long-distance travel in airplanes flying to and from airports — away from urban or rural areas. But what if aviation could reach those rural regions and urban centres? Enter: Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)
What is Advanced Air Mobility?
Advanced Air Mobility is the evolution of air transportation enabled by an ecosystem of new technologies allowing people, goods, and services to move within urban and regional areas safely, according to the Canadian Drone Advisory Committee (CanaDAC).
AAM combines traditional technologies such as planes, helicopters, and drones with new innovations in electrification, fuels, and automation to create a new, more sustainable mobility solution. These new innovations allow for new ways of connecting people between cities, within them, and to more rural areas outside of them. These new ways of flying are simpler, faster, cheaper, and best of all, create zero emissions during operation.
The different types of AAM aircraft
Under the AAM umbrella, aircraft range from cargo-carrying drones to passenger-carrying aircraft, each serving a different mobility purpose. Drones: also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), drones are the smallest aircraft in AAM. Drones are remotely controlled or autonomous, capable of carrying out tasks such as cargo or medical delivery, supporting emergency disaster management alongside wildlife, and environmental monitoring. Drones are a more sustainable method than ground delivery or aerial monitoring, which uses fossil fuel.
During the pandemic, Canadian company InDro Robotics, specializing in drone technology, transported medical supplies to Penelakut Island — a remote community between Vancouver Island and the mainland Pacific coast of British Columbia.
Time-sensitive lab samples, which were usually moved by ferry to off-island labs, became even more important during the pandemic. Drone deliveries lessened the chance of COVID-19 exposure and meant health-care workers could remain with clients while also reducing the journey from Penelakut Island to the nearest labs from over four hours to just seven minutes.
Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL)
VTOL isn’t new to aviation — helicopters have been around for decades, but they paved the way for hybrid and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in AAM. These aircraft could have a pilot on board or be automated, carry up to seven passengers, and only need a small take-off and landing area. Unlike helicopters, eVTOLs produce less noise and have more than two rotors to lift the aircraft, allowing more control over maneuverability while reducing emissions thanks to electric propulsion.
Hybrid and eVTOL aircraft are part of the future of AAM. Their size, speed, and maneuverability allow flights to predetermined stops within urban centres, like public transport — hence the more commonly recognized term, air taxis. But not all eVTOLs are for urban transport. For example, some have a longer range that enables travel between regions rather than within a city.
Aside from providing convenience to travellers, eVTOLs also can support first responders in disaster management, as medical helicopters have proven the need for emergency response by air. With eVTOLs, emergency response trips would reduce the environmental impact, lower costs, and improve operational efficiency.
New developments in fuel, manufacturing, software, and technology enable AAM to take flight. And when it’s ready to take off safely, AAM will have many opportunities to make the world better.
Canadian Advanced Air Mobility (CAAM) is a socially responsible, federal not-for-profit consortium that acts as a national catalyst for the AAM industry in Canada.