Mass Aeronautics Selected by NASA for an Advanced Air Mobility Partnership Opportunity

by | May 29, 2021

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is pleased to convey that a team led by the MassDOT Aeronautics Division has been selected by NASA for NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Community Planning and Integration Partnership Opportunity. In today’s announcement by federal officials, NASA described how NASA is going to partner, collaborate, and exchange information with Massachusetts and four other locations chosen across the nation for this opportunity: Ohio, Minnesota, Orlando, and North Central Texas.

The MassDOT Aeronautics team includes Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Beta Technologies, MassAutonomy, Massport, the MIT International Center for Air Transportation (ICAT), the Northeastern University Kostas Research Institute (KRI), Regent Craft, Shoreline Aviation of Marshfield Airport, The UMass Amherst Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA), and US Air Realty.

“MassDOT Aeronautics is pleased to have been accepted by NASA for this partnership opportunity as we have been collaborating with other entities already in an effort to make the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an early adopter location for advanced air mobility operations,” said MassDOT Aeronautics Administrator Dr. Jeffrey DeCarlo. “Massachusetts is looking to be at the forefront of early community demonstrations, policy solutions, and initial operations and we feel privileged to be working with team members who are true visionaries and global thought leaders from academia, industry, and government.”

NASA will be working with the MassDOT Aeronautics team and entities in Ohio, Minnesota, Orlando, and North Central Texas to ascertain on how to best work with communities to integrate a new, green, quiet, and equitable mobility option that will leverage these next generation air vehicles. Some industry advocates suggest that in the not-too-distant future, (perhaps in the years 2025-2030), the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will operate as sort of Uber/Lyft-in-the-air. The new aircraft are mostly electric fueled and powered, and it is essential that this new mobility option is integrated into existing and planned transportation systems. AAM includes the movement of people and goods and is expected to be systematically introduced starting in rural areas, then suburban, and ultimately urban environs.

Information from NASA can be found online: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/index.html

The MassDOT Aeronautics Division has already been working with a broad coalition MassDOT brought together to create a consensus set of basic facts and a shared taxonomy that can be used to facilitate more meaningful conversation on the basis of common understanding within the ecosystem of innovators, and more broadly with impacted communities and key stakeholders.

This work already underway includes:

● Academic and government partners have begun to share the results of research into AAM’s growth potential in the northeast.

● MassDOT’s core team of consultants is beginning to elucidate the infrastructure requirements for AAM route terminuses and charging facilities.

● Work is proceeding to identify use cases for AAM vehicles (e.g., carrying people intra- and inter-regionally or linking communities that are cut-off from easy commuting access to existing transportation hubs) and to articulate the value the uses would provide. (For example, there may be early value in using AAM vehicles for cargo delivery to meet state needs for emergency management in the mountains of western Massachusetts, or island communities off the coast of Cape Cod.)

● The Commonwealth and its partners are developing and documenting requirements for safe operations. For example, requirements for flying a vehicle such as an AAM in the national airspace need to be determined.

MassDOT Aeronautics is the lead for aviation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and serves as the primary transportation planning organization for aviation in the Commonwealth. The statewide aviation system encompasses 35 public use airports, in addition to a wide variety of private use landing areas, seaplane bases, and heliports. MassDOT Aeronautics is tasked by statute with building, maintaining, and advancing an efficient aviation system, capable of driving economic development and improving the quality of life in the Commonwealth.

MassDOT Aeronautics also plays a critical role with respect to aviation capital investment and project prioritization. MassDOT Aeronautics maintains the Massachusetts Statewide Airport System Plan (MSASP), a key source of guidance about the aviation system’s current and future needs; directs funding for the state’s matching share of federally funded projects included under the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP); and administers the Airport Safety and Maintenance Program, a grants-in-aid program specifically designed for projects and airports not eligible for FAA funding under the AIP.

MassDOT Aeronautics planning and funding process is done in conjunction with the regional metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), which in Massachusetts are only responsible for prioritizing non-aviation infrastructure projects — roadway, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian. For aviation, MassDOT is the entity responsible for planning and prioritizing capital investment.

MassDOT Aeronautics’ statutory responsibilities make it a critical actor with significant influence over the path of integration of AAM in Massachusetts.