Aviation - Emerging aeronautics

On this page:

Emerging aeronautics

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which includes safe, automated air transportation systems for passengers and cargo, and alternate propulsion technology (such as electric aircraft) has the potential to change how Washingtonians and the world travels. Following the release of the Washington Electric Aircraft Feasibility Study in 2020, WSDOT started pursuing recommendations from the study to implement this emerging technology into planning processes.

Performance analysis


WSDOT continues to monitor emerging aeronautics in 2023

Washington state continued to be a hotbed for cutting-edge aviation technology advancements in 2023, with breakthroughs across various areas, including the highlights below.

Electric and Hybrid Propulsion:

  • Eviation (Arlington): In early 2023, Mexican regional carrier Aerus signed an agreement to potentially acquire 30 all-electric "Alice" commuter aircraft from manufacturer Eviation Aircraft. Solyu, a leasing company based in Seoul, South Korea, signed a letter of intent for 25 commuter Alice aircraft with options for 25 additional aircraft. Later in the year, an order for 30 Alice aircraft was placed by MONTE, a regional aircraft lessor based in the United Kingdom. This purchase brings the total value of orders to over $4 billion. Eviation was also named as one of Time Magazine's 2023 TIME100 Most Influential Companies.
  • Zunum Aero ZA10 (Kirkland): The hybrid-electric regional aircraft prototype continued extensive ground testing and preparation for initial flight tests, planned for 2024. This aircraft targets short-haul regional routes, aiming to reduce both emissions and noise.
  • Electrification of airports: Washington airports continued to work with the WSDOT Aviation Division to determine best practices and strategies to establish aircraft charging facilities. Several airports are working to include aircraft charging in their airport master plans.

Unmanned Aerial Systems:

  • Boeing Loyal Wingman drone: Production ramped up at Boeing's Renton facility, with the first drones delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force. This marks another milestone in the development of advanced, combat-capable Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
  • Amazon Prime Air: The drone delivery service expanded its test operations, aiming to establish a network for rapid drone delivery in rural areas. Increased focus on safety regulations and public acceptance remains crucial. Delivery services are live in Texas and are expected to expand into Washington state soon.
  • Zipline This Unmanned Aircraft System company has been delivering medical supplies and vaccines in Africa for quite some time. Zipline is expecting to perform similar services in the Tacoma area for local company MultiCare in 2024. WSDOT Aviation Division worked with Zipline throughout 2023 to assist in implementing their new network. A Seattle-based pizza chain, Pagliacci, has signed on with Zipline for a drone delivery platform that aims to reduce congestion and speed up the delivery process.

Sustainable Technologies:

  • Sustainable Aviation Fuel:
    • In 2023, Governor Jay Inslee approved Sustainable Aviation Fuel legislation and per-gallon price incentives. The Port of Seattle backed the new legislation as part of its multi-year commitment to speed up the installation of locally manufactured SAF at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
      • Twelve (Moses Lake), a carbon transformation firm, announced intentions to commercialize E-Jet® fuel, Twelve's sustainable aviation fuel derived from CO2 and renewable energy. Twelve's carbon transformation technology uses renewable energy and water to convert CO2 into essential chemicals and materials generated from fossil fuels, producing E-Jet® fuel. E-Jet® fuel is a drop-in synthetic fuel that works with existing aircraft, delivering long-term solutions to aviation pollution.
      • Paine Field will host a sustainable aviation fuel research and development facility by 2027. The center will test global sustainable aviation fuel samples for safety, performance, and chemical resemblance to conventional jet fuel. The Snohomish County-Washington State University facility will also assist firms in commercializing sustainable aviation fuel.
      • Dutch business SkyNRG selected Washington state as the location to build a large biogas facility to create sustainable aviation fuel as part of the airline industry's decarbonization effort. SkyNRG indicated that the facility should be operating by 2028 or 2029. Its construction is expected to create 600 jobs and its operation is anticipated provide 100 permanent jobs.


  • Washington is one of three states that will receive $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy to build hydrogen production plants. The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association will get funding from a new program financed by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, making it one of seven hydrogen centers in the country. Bellingham, Centralia, East Wenatchee, and Kennewick are potential manufacturing sites. Interstates 5 and 90 and Interstates 82 and 84 were chosen as hydrogen "nodes" for transportation routes.
  • With the help of state incentives, ZeroAvia continued to grow at the company's Paine Field location in Everett. ZeroAvia's electric propulsion system technology research center has announced plans to equip a Dash-8 (76-seat turboprop aircraft) with a prototype engine before flight testing, making it the world's largest hydrogen-electric aircraft. Following an investment from Washington State's Economic Development Strategic Reserve Fund, ZeroAvia was able to quickly expand and currently employs 30 people at the location after a governmental investment in infrastructure. The investment aims to strengthen research and development facilities for the company's electric propulsion R&D and Dash-8 aircraft testbed refit program.
  • Alaska Airlines provided ZeroAvia with a Bombardier Q400 regional turboprop aircraft for use in developing a hydrogen-electric propulsion system to expand zero-emission aircraft technology.

Advanced Air Mobility:

  • Bainbridge Island-based Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI) has worked to educate the public and stakeholders about the concepts of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), Regional Air Mobility (RAM), and Urban Air Mobility (UAM).
  • WSDOT Aviation Division conducted research on the siting of vertiports, which are the transportation hubs for AAM. The focus was on noise and safety and how these facilities can best coexist with surrounding communities.
  • WSDOT Aviation Division has been discussing potential services in the Puget Sound region with LYTE Aviation, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft manufacturer. LYTE's 40-passenger LA-44 SkyBus is one of the largest VTOL aircraft announced to date. The aircraft is intended to link Seattle to Bainbridge Island and provide supplemental transportation options to the San Juan Islands.

These are just some highlights of the developments in Washington's aviation scene in 2023. The state continues to attract engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs, solidifying its position as a global leader in aviation technology.

Drone program snapshot

In 2023, the WSDOT drone program focused on improving operational workflows, adding new systems, capabilities, and expanding the use case for uncrewed systems.

Using drones for environmental impact assessments, surveys, project scope assessments and mapping and inspections has become a common practice with regional drone operators, where drone systems have proven to be effective and efficient tools for these applications. WSDOT has 31 drone systems and over 50 remote pilots strategically placed within the agency's six regions, capable of performing flight operations to support daily activities.

WSDOT Aviation is collaborating with agencies and institutions such as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the University of Clemson and created a platform to share information and processes to help move the drone program forward. Training requirements, internal policy, and current and upcoming federal and state regulatory environment will also see changes as WSDOT works to ensuring its remote pilots are prepared to meet future challenges.

New and upcoming procurement activities are focused on integrating aerial based Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) platforms and expanding capabilities in the realm of survey and project management. WSDOT Aviation expects to incorporate drone survey methods to help understand topographical changes and obstruction challenges in airports' environments. WSDOT is working with the Office of Emergency Management to expand the use of drones with a focus on resiliency, preparedness, and emergency management.

Airport obstruction map example created from UAS data extraction image
Airport obstruction map example created from UAS data extraction.
WSDOT drone pilot conducting a survey mission image
WSDOT drone pilot conducting a survey mission.


WSDOT aims to keep pace with emerging aeronautics technology

Throughout 2022, Advanced Air Mobility (AMM) and alternate propulsion technology made significant strides toward their nearterm implementation both in state and globally. WSDOT continues to work toward implementing emerging technologies into its planning process and explore how best to meet the needs of the traveling public.

In preparation for widespread adoption of AAM, the Federal Aviation Administration released design standards for Vertical Takeoff and Landing airports, termed "Vertiports." This will allow communities to begin formulating plans as to where to site and construct such installations.

On April 1, 2022, WSDOT established the registration of commercial drones as required by the Revised Code of Washington. Funds collected from drone registrations support WSDOT's collaborative assessments and work to integrate emerging technologies.

WSDOT monitors AAM developments around the world

On Sept. 28, 2022, Washington-based Eviation's all-electric passenger aircraft, the "Alice," successfully completed its inaugural flight. There was a strong showing of industry support in 2022 for the new aircraft with over $2 billion in orders for the model. Interest in the "Alice" has been global, with operators securing orders from Cape Air (USA), Air New Zealand, Evia Aero (Germany), Aerus (Mexico), and Northern Territory Air Services (Australia).

Amazon started making deliveries by drone in Washington in 2022, although the company has been testing deliveries in the state since at least 2015. It is unclear if progress in Amazon's drone division will be hampered by recently announced layoffs within the division.

Vancouver-based KinectAir launched corporate accounts for on-demand, point-to-point air travel in 2022. Examples of destinations included Napa, Bend, Seattle, Sun Valley, and other destinations throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. While the company is currently focusing on operating out of the West Coast, it aims to be a leader in the AAM marketplace as soon as aircraft become available. Zipline, a drone and future AAM provider, has been successfully flying medical drone deliveries across Africa and Japan. The company recently announced that it will be working with MultiCare Health System to provide delivery within the Tacoma area by 2024.

WSDOT publishes 2022 Electric Airport Feasibility Study

WSDOT, in collaboration with the University of Washington Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, released the 2022 Washington Electric Airport Feasibility Study, which presents recommendations on how regional airports can prepare for electric aviation. The report provides two example airports—Paine Field and the Grant County International Airport—to identify the capabilities of existing utility infrastructure to support the use of electric aircraft.

Electric aircraft include hybrid-electric, all-electric airplanes and vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The study notes that each aircraft has unique power requirements, and not all airports will host the same complement of aircraft.


WSDOT aims to keep pace with emerging aeronautics technology

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), which includes safe, automated air transportation systems for passengers and cargo, and alternate propulsion technology (such as electric aircraft) have the potential to change how Washingtonians and the world travels. Following the release of the Washington Electric Aircraft Feasibility Study in 2020, WSDOT started pursuing recommendations from the study to implement this emerging technology into planning processes.

The demand for air passenger service and air cargo in Washington is projected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. This is expected to result in higher greenhouse gas emissions and additional noise from traditional propulsion. WSDOT—through outreach conducted on behalf of the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission—determined the public wants more access to air travel, but would like it done in a sustainable and environmentally resilient manner.

WSDOT also defined strategies that keep pace with industry and regulators to set the conditions for Advanced Air Mobility aircraft as they become commercially viable. State and local stakeholders will need to work together to identify near-term applications for this emerging technology as well as other forms of propulsion using sustainable fuel. Creating multimodal connections with airports, vertiports (a type of airport for vehicles that land and take off vertically), and existing ground transportation modes will be paramount in the fullscale adoption of AAM. With this in mind, WSDOT is allocating 10% of the Airport Improvement Grant Program funds for AAM and sustainable aviation initiatives.

Electric Aircraft Feasibility study leads to increased partnership

The Washington State Electric Aviation Feasibility Study in 2020 identified six airports as candidates for the potential early adoption of electric aviation. Since the release of the study, 11 more airports expressed interest in pursuing planning and infrastructure projects in alignment with AAM initiatives.

As a result, WSDOT has expanded the beta test program to be more inclusive. The 17 Washington Sustainable Aviation Partner Airports will help champion AAM in Washington state.

WSDOT establishes state coordinator position

WSDOT established the position of Unpiloted Aircraft System State Coordinator as directed by the state legislature in 2021. The Unpiloted Aircraft System (UAS) coordinator position is focused on collaborating with stakeholders working with drones, coordinating with state and federal agencies on policies and rules, and assisting in the advancement of drone technology across the state in partnership with the Department of Commerce.

The position also monitors the growth of UAS technology that will help shape the regulatory and operations framework of autonomous and sustainable airborne platforms in the state.


Unmanned Aircraft Systems improve safety and efficiency in Washington

In March 2018, WSDOT instituted the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program. In 2020, the UAS program grew to include 41 remote pilots, and 19 drones of varied capabilities and sizes. Between January and December 2020, WSDOT employees conducted 120 UAS flights in support of their assigned duties. Using UAS technology led to improvements in safety as well as savings of both time and money.

Uses of UAS technology include piloted inspections of traffic signs, roadways, bridges and other infrastructure, as well as threedimensional survey modeling for project planning, design and construction. Hardware and software technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can be integrated with UAS drones to improve efficiency and data accuracy.

Drone technology leads to advanced air mobility options

Advancements in drone technology not only lead to new applications within transportation organizations, but they are also setting the conditions in communities that will foster the use of autonomous transportation like autonomous air taxis. Advanced Air Mobility programs and UAS-based delivery companies seek to augment overburdened transportation systems with alternatives. AAM programs help aviation markets safely develop air transportation systems that move people and cargo between places previously not served or underserved by aviation.

WSDOT partners with industry and community engagement organizations like the Unmanned Systems Industry Council, the Community Air Mobility Initiative, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and numerous other groups that are looking to shape the future of air transportation around the world in order to pursue options that align with and support growth for Washington and its citizens.


WSDOT successfully explores uses for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

In March 2018, WSDOT started its own small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS, also known as "drones") program. In the short time since its inception, the sUAS program has grown significantly. Now, all WSDOT regions and some individual divisions have their own sUAS coordinators and drones.

As of July 31, 2019, WSDOT had 34 licensed remote pilots and 14 sUAS. The list of uses for the sUAS is continually growing, but WSDOT's remote pilots have already used drones for:

  • Construction and preservation site inspections;
  • Surveying and monitoring sites;
  • Communications and outreach
  • Emergency response for natural disasters;
  • Reconnaissance of tree-cutting sites; and
  • Beaver dam inspections.

The WSDOT Aviation Division is responsible for overseeing the sUAS program at WSDOT and plans to use drones for additional tasks, including assisting with airport inspections for Master Record Reviews by mapping airport boundaries and locating and measuring obstructions in the airspace.

In the future, WSDOT may also use drones to help produce 3-D maps of airports, improving emergency operations planning. These maps would provide much more detailed information about space available for logistics staging, medical evacuation, casualty processing areas, displaced civilian evacuation marshalling areas, aircraft parking and staging areas, aviation maintenance areas, and water storage/distribution areas. This mapping information could then be shared with other state, local and federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to improve disaster response.

Top of page