Drone over Incheon

Korean Advanced Air Mobility Concept of Operations Points the Way for Cities Everywhere

By Marlis McCollum

Advanced air mobility—a new type of aviation offering cost, efficiency, and environmental benefits—has captured the imagination of cities across the globe. A concept of operations MITRE developed with a South Korean city offers a blueprint for integration in metropolitan areas worldwide. 

A whole new layer of aviation—advanced air mobility (AAM)—is on its way to a city near you. MITRE worked with one forward-leaning city to outline what it will take to make this evolutionary leap within the current decade.

Drones are already being used in multiple locales to carry medical supplies and to deliver retailers’ goods to customers’ doorsteps. Next on the horizon is AAM. 

“AAM vehicles use advanced technology—such as electric or hybrid propulsion, high degrees of automation, and advanced manufacturing—to fly cargo and people in a more accessible and environmentally friendly manner,” explains Michael Guterres, Ph.D., a leader of MITRE’s AAM and uncrewed aircraft system portfolios. 

Multiple cities around the world are working to implement operations of these transformational vehicles.

AAM: Vast Potential, Myriad Mobility Benefits

“The adoption of AAM can have a profound effect on the availability of aviation as a transportation option for all,” Guterres says.  

“These vehicles can be used for many different purposes, from delivering supplies to oil rigs or islands to carrying passengers between cities where aviation transportation is not currently available. They can also be used to transport rural residents to urban medical facilities, carry airline passengers to the airport, or support first responders in critical missions.”

In addition to offering a flexible and more available air transportation option, AAM vehicles are expected to have lower manufacturing and maintenance costs than gas-powered aircraft, such as helicopters. They’re also cleaner and quieter.

As a result of their potential benefits, billions of dollars have been invested in the development of AAM vehicles and associated infrastructure, and leaders throughout the world are taking notice. 

South Korea’s Incheon Metropolitan City is among those leading the charge to implement AAM operations.

While created for Incheon, the CONOPS can serve as a model for cities everywhere who are pursuing AAM implementation.

Michael Guterres, Portfolio Leader

An AAM Strategy for One City … and Many More

MITRE recently collaborated with Incheon and South Korea’s Institute for Aerospace Industry-Academia Collaboration in producing a comprehensive concept of operations (CONOPS) to inform integration of AAM into Incheon’s transportation network by 2030.

“While created for Incheon, the CONOPS can also serve as a model for cities everywhere who are pursuing AAM implementation,” says Guterres, who led the MITRE CONOPS development team.

The leaders of Incheon, South Korea’s third-largest metropolis and a major port city, see AAM as a way to provide new and efficient mobility options to Korean citizens, especially those in underserved or remote areas.

“Incheon is part of a metropolitan area that includes more than 160 islands, so one of their priorities is to provide a more efficient means for island residents to visit the mainland,” Guterres explains. Another is to enable Incheon residents to travel quickly and easily in and around Incheon and nearby Seoul. 

“Integration of AAM will be deliberately carried out to ensure safety, involve the community, and result in improved mobility for all in the region,” Guterres says.

Outlining City Roles and Responsibilities

Achieving these goals is an ambitious undertaking.

“AAM technology has advanced a great deal, but there’s a lot more involved in AAM implementation than the vehicles themselves,” Guterres notes.

Unlike traditional aviation, where vehicles take off and land from highly regulated airports and follow well-defined paths, AAM vehicles will do so from distributed locations, which can be almost anywhere—from parking lots and rooftops to dedicated AAM facilities or traditional airports. And there could be hundreds or even thousands of them in a city. And even more routes.

“That means the city needs to address many important questions before AAM can be implemented,” Guterres says. 

For instance: What routes will the vehicles fly, and how can their safety be assured? What regulations are needed to govern the establishment of aviation departure and arrival ports? What mechanisms are needed to involve the public and achieve their trust in and support for AAM operations? How will AAM be seamlessly and safely integrated with other modes of transportation, such as traditional aviation, ferries, rail transit, and buses? And what are the financial arrangements between AAM operators, the service providers that will support their operations, and the city?

The CONOPS MITRE developed for Incheon covers all those considerations and more. It outlines an implementation path from the earliest phases of AAM integration—such as research, development, and demonstration activities—through to initial commercial deployment and ultimately full operations.

“The CONOPS addresses the city’s many roles and responsibilities,” Guterres says. “It is agnostic to the aircraft and what you want to do with it. Instead, it focuses on everything a city government needs to concern itself with to make AAM a reality.”

The Perfect AAM Pioneer

“Incheon is a very complex environment,” Guterres notes. “It has large numbers of citizens living on islands off the coast. It has ports. It is home to South Korea’s largest international airport, and it features a dense city center surrounded by suburbs. It’s also adjacent to Seoul as well as to an international border with a hostile neighbor, which drives significant airspace access constraints.”

MITRE was able to leverage its extensive expertise in system-of-systems integration, airspace integration, and modeling of complex aviation systems to address the region’s unique challenges. 

In many ways, Incheon’s complexity makes it an ideal “use case” for a city-focused AAM CONOPS because, as Guterres explains, “any other city is likely to have a subset of the elements the CONOPS addresses.” So, it could be used by other cities in their planning efforts.

“This is important to Incheon,” Guterres says, “because they’re collaborating with other cities and want their CONOPS to serve as a widely used blueprint.”

Guterres sees the CONOPS as having broader implications as well. 

“Both within a given country and internationally, there’s value in harmonizing, and our work on this CONOPS is part of that harmonization. Whether working at the city, state, federal, or international level, we’re sharing lessons learned and enabling others to advance more quickly. As the operator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s federally funded research and development center, we work in the public interest, and international harmonization is part of our role.”

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