Aviation - Emerging aeronautics
On this page:
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.
WSDOT eyes Unmanned Aircraft System usage
In March 2018, the WSDOT Aviation Division hosted an internal training course on small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS), also known as "drones." WSDOT regions and programs interested in conducting a sUAS program must first have a trained coordinator.
The WSDOT Aviation Division is responsible for overseeing the sUAS program at WSDOT and plans to use drones for various tasks, including inspecting airports for Master Record Reviews (see sidebar on p. 11) by mapping airport boundaries and locating and measuring obstructions in the airspace.
At WSDOT Aviation, drones can also be used 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 can then be shared with outside agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others at the state, county and city levels to improve disaster response.