Ohio Urban Air Mobility Symposium: A Look Into the Future of Ohio Skies

The landscape of Ohio’s infrastructure is in for big changes in the coming years. One of the biggest changes could be coming sooner than we think. With new opportunities in the realm of unmanned aircraft, the transportation infrastructure for business and residents alike will look quite different over the coming years. To help focus the thoughts and the discussion on this topic, OSU Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy helped coordinate an incredible event in February, the Urban Air Mobility Symposium.

On February 27, 2020, 194 business professionals, government officials, and Ohio State Students descended upon the Blackwell Inn on The Ohio State University’s campus to discuss this growing topic. The day was split into five different sessions, each one bringing up a different arena of the topic of Urban Air Mobility (UAM). Our guests were able to get in depth views from a variety of panelists with different roles in the future of this industry.

Opening Statements

George Valcarcel with opening remarks

The Symposium opened with remarks from Dr. Elizabeth Newton, the Executive Director of OSU Battelle Center, and the creator and organizer of the event, George Valcarcel. Dr. Newton started with a message for the students in attendance: “I hope you see this event as an opportunity to witness the power of relationships and network and the power of sharing your ideas in order to strengthen and refine them.” She also had a message for the business professionals in the room: “Let’s figure out how to create the conditions in Ohio that gives people like George [Valcarcel] a reason to return to our state and to begin businesses and new enterprises.”

George then introduced Retired Air Force Colonel Joseph Zeis Jr., Senior Advisor for Aerospace and Defense for the Office of Ohio Governor Mike Dewine. Col Zeis gave a wonderful opening to the Symposium, providing the audience with a great overview of how exciting this new industry can be for Ohio. “It’s exciting because it’s truly our next generation and it’s envisioning our future,” Col Zeis noted. He discussed the strategy of Governor Dewine, and what people could expect from Ohio.

Colonel Joseph Zeis Jr.

He explained how Ohio’s Federal Installations including Wright Patterson Air Force Base and NASA Glenn help set the ecosystem in Ohio through their funding. He discussed the research culture in Ohio from those federal installations to the public and private universities in Ohio that already have programs built to effect this industry. Then he discussed the industry infrastructure from supply chain to the manufacturing companies and their role in creating opportunities for growth in the industry. And finally, he discussed the workforce that can be trained and created here in Ohio, through industry and universities. The need for these silos in Ohio to come together through innovative policy and communication will be the key to our success in cultivating an environment that is prepared for a world of UAM.

Panel #1 Defining Urban Air Mobility and the Opportunity for Ohio

Moderator: Brian Garrett-Glaser

Panelists: Fred Judson, Jonathan Hartman, Alice Cummings, Kofi Asante, Edgar Valdez

The first panel discussed defining the term Urban Air Mobility and how it affects the landscape. Panelists were able to discuss what their companies and agencies are working on from technology to policy.

They also took a chance at defining the term UAM. Jonathan Hartman, Disruptive Technologies Lead at Sikorsky, started with, “It’s how do we access and expand the use of the low altitude third dimension? How do you utilize the fundamental nature of being able to go point to point without significant infrastructure?”

The panel also noted the difficulty of the of the term Urban in UAM. They felt this term was misleading and did not truly help people understand the scope that UAM can reach, from rural, suburban and urban areas.

Each panelist got an opportunity to talk about the atmosphere they are looking for to launch the latest in UAM technology. Alice Cummings, COO at VyrtX, noted that Ohio is a great place for this industry. “Even though it may not look like it sometimes from a public perspective if you’re not in this industry, Ohio is the place to be.” She discussed the knowledge base in Ohio is, “second to none,” and the infrastructure that is already starting to be conceived in the space and how forward thinking the area has become.

Edgar Valdez, Regulatory and HR Strategy Lead for UPS, noted the barriers that they foresee moving forward, “I’m confident that the technology and policy will get there. I have no doubt in mind in regards to that. However, I think what we also need to focus on is public acceptance and public demand in regards to seeing a helicopter coming down right out here.” This discussion was vital as it this industry will be reaching into people’s homes and areas and making sure the public is informed and accepting of this reality will be a large part of the development of this industry.

Panel #2 Operational Challenges for UAM: Airspace Integration, Cyber-Security, and Data Privacy

Moderator: Jim Gregory

Panelists: Andrea Shestopalov, Sabrina Saunders-Hodge, Ken Edge, Dennis Hirsch

This panel discussed specific ideas around what challenges this industry will find as it grows. They started by discussing what they saw as the most significant challenge that’s not being addressed today.

“From the regulatory stance, I would say more standards,” noted Sabrina Saunders-Hodge, Director of the UAS Research Division of the FAA. She noted that while there are standards that manned aircraft have to meet and even for unmanned aircraft, there is still a lack of information and standards that can be referenced in order to create more performance based regulation.

Dennis Hirsch, Professor and Director at the Program on Data and Governance at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State, discussed the threat of privacy. This includes cameras and even data that has to be provided to air traffic controllers. He brought up concerns about the amount of data that will need to be shared and can be shared as this industry grows.

They also discussed the misconceptions about the industry. These included discussions of how much larger the effect of this industry will be on the day to day transportation we currently use, that the technology is actually ahead of the regulation rather than the other way around. The dynamic of the ecosystem is far reaching and the future is here. That discussion just proves how important events like this will be in the coming years, to create spaces where information can be accurately portrayed and brought to the public.

Luncheon Remarks by Fred Judson

Fred Judson, Director of the DriveOhio Ohio UAS Center with the Ohio Department of Transportation, gave the luncheon remarks for the Symposium. He discussed the role of the Ohio UAS Center in the industry and how the department of transportation can promote the vision of, “Highways in the sky.” He discussed the need for the messaging and communication to keep the infrastructure and industry on the same page as this industry develops.

He gave a wonderful background to the history of flight, from the Wright brothers to the first unmanned aircrafts. This lead to a discussion of the entrepreneurial nature of the industry and the strides that have been made.

Fred Judson also discussed the development of connecting the urban centers of Ohio with the latest in mobility technology. This includes creating corridors using I-71 as the blueprint for the infrastructure. The hope for Ohio is to be able to have more full Air Traffic systems and capabilities in a various modes by 2024.

Keynote with Dr. John S. Langford

Dr. John S. Langford

Dr. John S. Langford was the keynote gave the keynote for the symposium discussing rapid prototyping and its application to UAM. He brought up the promise and challenges on the horizon fo electric propulsion, the importance of autonomy, and the rapid prototyping model in the development of UAM.

He opened with an incredibly insightful premise, “The most important thing you learn when you work with hardware is humility.” He used this to transition into the way technology is doubted until it becomes a reality. He discussed the way gas turbines were once not considered feasible when it came to airplanes. He points out that this is the way some people think about electric engines in the aviation industry and how we need to learn from our past. He discussed that electric engine driven airplanes will be different and will change the game.

In discussing the importance of autonomy, he discussed the economic impact. “You cannot possibly have a vehicle with economic operations with two people sitting up front in a vehicle that transports two passengers,” he stated, discussing the cost of pilots would create a form of transportation that does not make economic sense for the passengers or for the industry. “Until you can get a vehicle that carries 2 to 4 passenger vehicle with no active pilot onboard,” it will not make economic sense. He mentions the need for controllers in this space that can help intervene as needed. The key with automation is the the ability to make the industry of transporting people viable.

Finally he discussed the rapid prototyping model and how that work can affect the UAM industry. He discussed his experience with Aurora before they were with Boeing. He discussed the need for this system with fewer people in order to take chances, to keep the focus on innovation and results, as well as focusing on the customers that will be benefiting what is created. He talked about fighting through the difficulties that come with the failures that are inevitable and learning fast in those spaces to get to the other side where the creation of new technology in the industry. All of this can be a big part of the UAM industry and help create the next wave of technology that can live up to the regulatory landscape, the economy atmosphere, and cut through public perceptions to make a viable industry and bring this technology to the forefront.

Dr. Langford with students from the Ohio STEM Network

He ended on the thought, “The real challenge is certifying autonomous flight,” echoing some of the same concerns brought up by Ms. Saunders-Hodge from our earlier panel. The challenge is going to be the creating reliable autonomous systems. The ceiling of autonomous systems is making flight safer. To reach that mountaintop, it’s going to take innovative thinkers, policy makers, and industry leaders coming together to create a system that works for everyone.

Panel #3 VTOL Vehicle Designs, Enabling Technologies, and Certification Process

Moderator: Jim Sherman

Panelists: Brian German, Ken Goodrich, Hector Garcia, Daniel G. Goddard

The third panel spent time discussing the path of the industry through the newest technologies and touching on the challenges of certification as the industry attempts to create safe, usable modes of transportation.

“We can’t look at this from a vehicle centric perspective, we have to look at all aspects of the system: the vehicles themselves, how individual vehicles are operated, unique flight procedures need to be developed and validated, design of the air space and air traffic and how that system operates in real time, and the community integration aspect,” Ken Goodrich, Deputy Project Manager for Technology for NASA Advanced Air Mobility, summarized at the start of the session. He discussed different aspects of each including safety and the need to be able to react to various events such as whether and congestion. He also noted the difficulty of public integration as residents are used to airports being built away from population centers. But with UAM, there will be more landing centers closer to residential areas which will change the way we think about this form of transit.

The next topic the panel discussed was about the enabling technologies of this industry. Hector Garcia, Urban Air mobility Engineering Director for Honeywell talked about simplified vehicle operations, “This will enable not a highly skilled pilot to be able to operate the vehicle.” Making these vehicles easier to fly will create a wider base of people that are able to operate these vehicles and enable it to be in the public sphere.

Daniel Goddard, Senior Manager for VTOL Systems for the Air Force Research Laboratory, discussed detect and avoid technologies. These technologies will help create the safety that was referenced earlier to help certification processes. Also important, with the development of effective detect and avoid technologies will help with creating the public acceptance required to make this technology effective.

One of the final discussions on technology designs also related to the public perception and acceptance of the technology. The panel discussed noise levels associated with this technology and how that will be a large factor moving forward. Ken Goodrich noted that people have to see a benefit added to their lives by the use of this technology or else any level of noise will be unacceptable. Hector Garcia also noted that the technology is out there, but the awareness is not where it needs to be in order for public acceptance of the technology at this point.

Panel #4 Infrastructure Planning, Zoning, and Financing

Moderator: Dr. Amber Woodburn McNair

Panelists: Danielle Rinsley, Rex Alexander, Justin Anderson, Lisa Peterson

This panel discussed the challenges ahead for the policy aspects of the infrastructure of UAM. It is easy to miss this topic as we discuss technology, however, industry leaders and government officials know how important the regulatory aspect of these industries is.

The first question involved the integration of this technology with ride sharing. Danielle Rinsler, the Head of Aviation Policy with Uber, discussed how important it was to help alleviate urban congestion with this technology. Uber has been putting more transportation options for people including understanding when getting a ride share is actually less efficient than public transportation. This system can help them integrate even more transit options to create more efficient transit.

Justin Anderson, Senior Airport Planner for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, was asked about what are the most important areas of infrastructure that need to be considered moving forward. He discussed a wide variety of infrastructure needs including parking, security protocols in conjunction with TSA in the event of passenger craft landing, and where maintenance will be performed on these vehicles, whether that is being on site or if they need to be transported elsewhere. He painted a picture of the vast nature of this industry and how the airport systems in Ohio will need to look ahead and forecast what types of transportation will be coming in the future and with what frequency.

The next question was for Rex Alexander, President of Five Alpha Consulting and Infrastructure Advisor at Vertical Flight Society, was asked about the differences between heliports and the standards set for those structures versus vertiports for VTOL aircraft. He noted that one of the biggest challenges is the variety of vehicle specifications being offered. “A helicopter is a helicopter is a helicopter, but that’s not so in this industry,” which leads to the question of how to these vertiports will be built in order to accommodate such a variety.

At the end of the session, Lisa Peterson, President of Peterson Mobility Solutions, noted how important it is for cities to be prepared for this emerging technology. She discussed the resistance that often comes from government bodies to new technologies that will disrupt the planning that has already been put into place. Her point was well taken and underscored the need to for flexibility at the policy level to be proactive in their understanding of what is on the horizon and how it could shape their cities.

Panel #5 Ohio’s Role to Play in Advancing and Integrating Air Mobility into Our Communities

Moderator: Glenn Richardson

Panelists: Bob Tanner, Representative Adam Holmes, Jennifer Clark, Mark Zannoni

The final panel discussed what Ohio can do to bring this technology into a widespread reality for our communities.

Robert Tanner, the Executive Director of the Ohio Federal Research Network, discussed the infrastructure already in place in Ohio and how it is an, “innovation pot,” that can create a new era of transit. OFRN sponsors technology challenges in the UAM arena and can help incentivize working on the newest challenges in this industry including the onboard computers to the infrastructure needs of the industry. “Ohio really has the edge in terms of collaborations and partnerships, and now we really have to crack that policy walnut to deploy these solutions and bring into mainstream operations.”

Dr. Jennifer Clark of The Ohio State University discussed the economic impacts of this industry and how important it is for Ohio to support it. She talked about the need to support innovative manufacturing and production, not just for the vehicles, but the software and hardware that is required to make this industry viable. These industries can install new energy into the economy and really can be the up and coming space for new jobs and sources of revenue for the state.

The final discussion point was what the panel thought the industry would look like in the next five years. Mark Zannoni, Principal of Zannoni & Co, Ltd., noted that the transportation of packages will likely be underway, but the transportation of passengers won’t due to the regulatory limitations that are likely to be in place. They discussed that Ohio is uniquely positioned to help shape the conversation with federal regulators to prove the viability and safety of these systems to have this industry into a mainstream release. Dr. Clark discussed the experience of flight operators in mitigating and handling risk, but noted that the tech sector of the economy has less experience in this arena despite taking the lead on the design of these aircraft.

Conclusion

The Urban Air Mobility Symposium was an incredible event filled with insights about the future of the industry and the effects it will have on society, industry, and government in Ohio. All of the speakers and moderators we had for this event were incredibly gracious to give us their time to add to this discussion and truly added value to the audience members that were able to attend.

We would also like to bring a very special shout out to George Valcarcel, a senior who will be graduating in this Spring, for putting together this event. The UAM Symposium was his vision and he did an incredible job reaching out to various industry partners and organizing to make this event a reality. We have been fortunate to work with him and look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in the future.

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