“Low-altitude airspace solutions must….avoid favoring any system” – Travis Mason, Airbus A^3

With Altiscope you are developing an airspace management platform and with Vahana an autonomous air taxi to fly in that airspace – how far would you say that UAS traffic management technologies are now ahead of the regulatory efforts to enable their operation?

Travis Mason Altiscope is creating a simulator that gives organizations and policymakers the ability to evaluate policy options and operational models to enable all forms of airborne traffic in a wide range of geographies and jurisdictions. Many factors must be considered when integrating vehicles into the airspace such as environmental concerns, weather and noise, and public safety. These elements need to be understood before a low-altitude airspace solution can be designed. We’re taking a different approach because policymakers need the data to better understand how these airborne vehicles impact the complexities and nuances of airspace.

While Vahana is certainly a part of that airborne traffic ecosystem, Altiscope’s approach is policy agnostic to ensure that the result works for each jurisdiction. Low-altitude airspace solutions must account for any type of aircraft operation and avoid favoring any system, aircraft platform, or mission profile over another.

UAS technology has made tremendous strides, and our teams at Airbus and A3 are working with regulators to integrate all types of vehicles into our airspace. It’s an exciting time to work with partners around the world across both private and public sectors to help define a sustainable airspace solution for the future.

There are many different UTM concepts around – which one do think offers the fastest, easiest path to safe autonomous drone and passenger taxi operations?

Travis Mason I’m certainly biased, but equally excited about the work I’ve seen here at Airbus and A3. The team has an incredibly practical, strategic approach coupled with an extensive network of partners all around the world with a powerful mission to define the future of flight.

Are ATM and UTM completely different systems, with entirely different technologies and procedures?

Travis Mason Our goal is to enable all current and future types of airborne vehicles to safely exist in the airspace. With many new technologies being developed today and on the horizon, integration is a complicated endeavor. Creating air traffic management policies is similar to establishing rules and regulations for roadways. For example, consider how bicycles, SUVs and semi trucks can all coexist on the same infrastructure. There are different policies based on the vehicle type, geographical context, population density and other variables that all ladder up to an overarching roadway system. Similarly, airspace regulators must evaluate how all types of airborne vehicles can coexist in different contexts.

How’s progress going on Vahana? What are your key technical challenges and milestones and when will I be able to fly in it?

Travis Mason  Vahana has taken final delivery of major full-scale components (including the wings, fuselage, avionics components and actuators) and have begun full-scale vehicle integration. This autumn, the airframes will be shipped up to Oregon to begin flight testing at their hangar at Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton and is on schedule to take flight before the end of the year.

What’s been the interest in Altiscope from ANSPs?

Travis Mason  We are working directly with a variety of organizations across the public and private sector, including national air navigation service authorities, government agencies, aerospace and technology companies, and NGOs. We’ll have more to share in the coming months.

I guess one of your major challenges is to convince regulators of the high levels of safety that will be built into airspace management and air taxi products. How on earth do you go about convincing them of this, especially as these are entirely new concepts for which there is no historical data? How far is this a cultural issue?

Travis Mason Based on recent regulatory conversations and announcements around the world, we have seen excitement and support for new airborne vehicles, with a clear priority for safety. Safety is our priority too — so we’re working with regulators and partners around the world and leveraging Airbus’ strong working relationships with regulatory bodies such as the FAA and EASA representing a diverse set of operational needs. At the end of the day, our mission is to bring products to market, and we can only do so if they are completely safe. It’s evident to us that no one organization or company will be able to tackle this monumental challenge and indeed, much of the work they have done will be invaluable building blocks for projects such as Altiscope and Vahana. Rather, it will require global participation and cooperation between the best minds in both public and private entities. We all share an urgency to build a solution that will encourage the safe growth of new types of traffic.

You are working on some really great concepts here which could revolutionise urban transport – and drone management. You must have a lot more reasons to be optimistic they will all make to market than not. What are the main reasons why you think we will see these technologies flying soon?

Travis Mason  There’s a lot of investment and excitement going on in flight from both the public and private sector, and it’s clear that the industry is eager to implement new technology in the airspace. But what makes A3 and Airbus uniquely positioned to lead the charge is our history of working with an international network of talent that touches every relevant domain to the future of flight and air traffic management. We can bring technology in aviation to bear quickly in a safe and secure manner, so I’m optimistic we’ll see these technologies flying in years, not decades.

Travis G. Mason manages public policy across the project teams, Airbus’ new commercial UAS business and the Airbus Corporate Technology Office. Travis joined A³ after 6 years at Alphabet and Google, where he focused on public policy issues facing the company’s advanced technology efforts in aviation, renewable energy and life sciences. Travis also worked at Booz Allen Hamilton designing collaborative technology solutions across the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State. His Bachelor’s Degree is from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University, where he was recognized as a Harry S. Truman Scholar, one of the country’s most prestigious undergraduate awards. He earned his Master’s Degree at the University of Michigan and also studied at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a Galbraith Scholar.

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