On October 25, the U.S. Air Force signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to support the safe integration of Advanced Air Mobility (AAM). The MOU was signed by the FAA and the innovation arm of the U.S. Air Force, AFWERX. AFWERX’s goals include expanding the defense industrial base for advanced technologies and driving innovation to operational capability. Under the terms of the MOU, the FAA and U.S. Air Force will exchange data, including flight-test data, and otherwise collaborate on the testing of AAM technologies.
The role of the U.S. Air Force in supporting AAM technology is significant. At the MOU signing ceremony, AFWERX noted that it has awarded more than $345 million in contracts to 36 developers of electric aircraft and related technologies. AFWERX iterated that these investments, along with partnerships and testing, have generated more than $11 billion in commercial investment in the AAM sector. This significant figure is consistent with our previous articles, whereby individual AAM companies alone have reported annual investments exceeding $1 billion USD.
AFWERX has four core arms in its vision to deliver disruptive air & space capabilities to the U.S. Air Force. “Prime”, the AFWERX arm engaged with the FAA under the terms of the new MOU, accelerates nascent technologies within the commercial market. Aptly named, Prime serves to “prime” emerging commercial markets to benefits the commercial industrial base and military capabilities. Prime programs may benefit from any number of U.S. Air Force capabilities, such as funding, testing infrastructure, certification authorities, and interagency relationships.
Additional arms of AFWERX include its “Spark” initiative, which includes training and development to bring additional innovation to Air Force pilots. The concept of AAM encompasses not only innovative aircraft, such as electric aircraft, but also innovative systems. These may include autonomous controls and detections sensors that will make intelligent decisions about collision avoidance and navigation, among other benefits. Such autonomous technologies have already, and will continue to, enhance safety in the military, commercial, business, and general aviation communities. Indeed, aviation manufacturers across industries are incorporating into their designs autonomous systems which detect and avoid, react and make decisions based on a pilot’s control inputs or lack thereof, and navigate courses with just a touch of a button.
FAA's partnership with AFWERX aligns with its vision of using existing U.S. governmental expertise to assist with AAM integration. The FAA highlighted the importance of leveraging established programs in its FAA's 2023 Implementation Plan for AAM ("I-28"). On the federal level, key existing programs include those managed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and now the U.S. Air Force through the AFWERX MOU. Also as part of this inter-governmental collaboration, FAA launched a federal interagency working group, in May 2023, discussed here previously.