Advanced Air Mobility, BVLOS and the chauffeur problem

I have spent the weekend thinking about the next generation of UA and these random thoughts floated past.

We have moved from can we keep things the right way up and pointed in the right direction to airframes that just work.

The folks that create acronyms have dragged infrastructure inspection into the term Advanced Air Mobility, they had already pulled in cargo delivery.

It’s almost as if AAM needs to make sure the bits of the drone ecosystem that actually work are in their talking points so they look less Emperors New Clothes.

This is then leading to talk about how important BVLOS flight in the brave new AAM world .

You can fly direct to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if suitably rated.

The pilot/operator is just a small cog in the drive train.

Whilst true to say an uncrewed flight is far from uncrewed, requiring many people to get the platform in the air and monitor, as far as large platforms go that really is just a function of old technology on the piloting side.

The bulk of the team are engineers and data interpreters.

The engineering requirement won’t go away. They will always be needed. Their jobs will change, more robot tech than A&P but they are clever people and will adapt. Many more of them than exist now will be required. Data analysis will still happen it is why the platform is in the sky.

The pilot qualification requirement.

Why?

In the digital sky of 2030 the autopilot and full autonomy will do the job. The qualifications of the person hitting return on a keyboard somewhere in the world will be meaningless.

By 2030 I would hope that the entire system is put through flight tests by regulators and signed off.

The regulator will not only sign off hardware but the flight stack, modern flight stacks have already flown many more flight hours than legacy platforms.

The flight stack drives the drone if you will, it is the pilot. But of course, not one pilot but perhaps 50 developers and 10,000 testers.

However you would like to frame it, many flight stacks have more flight time than any person alive.

But what about crashing into stuff!

Tools already exist to separate manned and remote flight. No need to wait until 2030. Remember this 2030 is closer than the chats that bought us ADS-B in the 1990s, still not widely rolled out and very much yesterdays insecure trivial to spoof technology.

I am moving off topic, back to chauffer’s.

Historian Kevin Borg in, The “Chauffeur Problem” in the Early Auto Era, speaks to the transition from horse-drawn carriages to motor vehicles. To buy a car you would be the sort of person that would be wealthy enough to have a coachman.

It was common to retrain the coachman to drive the car.

Training classes were offered by Locomobile, Pierce-Arrow and the New York and Boston branches of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  These were designed to help owners retain their trusted and loyal coachmen and staff.

“The only attainments that a coachman, per se, has for the position of a chauffeur are his familiarity with what are called the rules of the road and his knowledge of the social relations of the driver of a vehicle to his employer……the man who has a liking for the position of coachman is not likely to have taste or talent for mechanical work.” 

As the guardians of the new technology, chauffeurs grew increasingly arrogant, taking kickbacks from garages, hiring out their owners’ cars after hours (hacking), and showing general insubordination. Driving licences are said to have originated from this “problem” in 1912. 

In 1904, the West Side branch of the YMCA had opened an automobile school to simultaneously train owners and chauffeurs. 

The classes empowered the owners with the basic working knowledge of combustible engines and automobile maintenance and taught chauffeurs “approved character” and how to act professionally.  During the first ten years, the school trained more than 10,000 New Yorkers, almost half of which were chauffeurs.

All sounds rather familiar, trying to keep it a special club of owners and operators.

But the first world war came along and changed everything. Being able to drive and mass production of vehicles made it all less exotic.

We are currently in 1904, trying to bang a square peg into a round hole. Some similarities with what went before but not really fit for purpose. The drones themselves are entering the 1950’s far ahead of regulators.

We should be preparing for a fully autonomous low altitude sky, instead, we are making sure new technology is still tipping its hat to the old guard.