In this in-depth interview from her Drones at Dawn podcast series, Yolanka Wulff of the Community Air Mobility Initiative discusses what it will take to reach public acceptance for passenger drones, urban air mobility and other advanced air mobility projects.
By Dawn Zoldi
Many puzzle pieces need to fit together before advanced air mobility (AAM) will become a reality. The rubber meets the road at ground level, in terms of both required infrastructure and public acceptance. This second of two articles on AAM features Yolanka Wulff, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI), a world-renowned expert in this space (Read the first article with Rex Alexander, President of Five-Alpha, on vertiports here). Yolanka provides her insights and wisdom to DroneLife, in Q&A format below.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?
A: I am the Executive Director of CAMI. By education and profession, I am a nonprofit and business attorney and consultant. I also have a background in land use and sustainable transportation. About a dozen years ago, I was asked by a client to work on a nonprofit project supporting the nascent electric aviation industry. I was hooked, and haven’t looked back! Over the past decade, I have worked as a sustainable aviation consultant, working with industry, government, academia and nonprofit organizations on policy, standards and regulations, industry development, market challenges, communications and media relations.
Q: Yolanka, what’s CAMI’s mission and why did you start it?
A: CAMI is an educational nonprofit whose mission is to support the responsible integration of the third dimension into our daily transportation through education, communication, and collaboration. We believe that the successful implementation of AAM will hinge on its integration as a new mode in regional, metropolitan and rural transportation systems. We work at the state and local level with decision makers, public agencies, transportation planners and the public. CAMI provides the link between industry, regulators, and the communities where advanced air mobility will be implemented.
Q: Yolanka, CAMI is all about community acceptance of AAM. How do you think we can win over hearts and minds?
A: To date, advanced air mobility has been a technology push market. The convergence of technologies such as electric and distributed propulsion, autonomy, and data networks have created the opportunity for the numerous vehicles we see in development today. However, the technology coming from industry is not in response to an articulated market demand from communities or from transportation planners. We work with communities to understand how this new technology might become an opportunity to address their unique transportation needs.
Community acceptance of AAM depends on a number of factors including:
- Safety – while commercial aviation has a long track record of safety, these vehicles will be flying in close proximity to people and property in a manner and in numbers that have not previously occurred.
- Broad public benefit – AAM offers opportunities to address transportation challenges that come from ground transportation modes by reducing emergency response times, increasing the range of access to the urban core, urgency trip pairing with commuter transit, stronger connections to rural areas and elimination of transportation deserts. However, we need to ensure that this new mode is affordable, broadly accessible, and implemented in an equitable manner.
- Mitigate adverse impacts – These include noise, visual pollution, the risk of urban sprawl, and demand on limited resources and funding. We need to ensure that we are transparent about these adverse impacts, and that we do everything we can to minimize them.
- Integrate into a multimodal system – this is a new experience for the aviation industry, which has to date operated primarily as a separate form of transportation. As we work with communities to plan for AAM, we need to ensure that it is integrated into existing transportation systems both through planning and in real time operations. Vertiports need to be strategically located to integrate with transportation hubs such as light rail stations and airports. AAM needs to integrate with existing transit, and existing goods delivery modes.
Q: What is CAMI doing to achieve that?
A: CAMI achieves its mission through education, communication, and collaboration. We educate through the development of resources, which are available on our website. There you will find CAMI Notes series, short briefs on specific topics and links to our educational webinars, such as AAM 101 and our American Planning Association webinar. We have several longer guidebooks in the works that will be released this year. We are working with NASA to provide educational content for their AAM Community Integration Annex. We also do educational webinars for specific groups by request. We communicate with industry, the regulatory agencies, state and local governments, and the public through presentations, speaking engagements, podcasts and other means.
One of our signature programs is the Urban Air Policy Collaborative, developing a peer network of public agencies and planners for the local implementation of AAM through the sharing of knowledge, discussion of issues, development of recommendations, and collaboration with peers through an ongoing program of workshops, presentations and conversations. The UAPC has two programs:
- The Cohort – a five-month intensive program for public agency staff which provides a broad curriculum on advanced air mobility including aviation aspects, community and environmental impacts, social equity, integration into transportation systems, and planning for AAM.
- The Forum – an ongoing facilitated conversation with public agencies, CAMI Members and CAMI’s expert contributors which meets regularly to tackle various challenges.
The next UAPC cohort will convene in September 2021. UAPC Cohorts are open to public agencies that are interested in advanced air mobility. Past cohorts have included staff from departments of transportation, aviation divisions, cities, counties, tribes, states, airports, and transit authorities. More details on admission and the curriculum are available at communityaimobility.org/uapc. Applications from jurisdictions that are interested in participating are encouraged to apply through August 15, 2021 by emailing [email protected]
Q: How is CAMI different from Flight Crowd?
A: First, let me say that we collaborate closely with Flight Crowd and think they are great! The main difference between our organizations is that CAMI’s target stakeholders are local agencies, transportation planners, elected officials, businesses, as well as industry and regulators. We work to understand the challenges of planning for and implementing AAM in a community and to develop the policies and best practices to address these challenges. Without trying to put words in their mouths, I think Flight Crowd would tell you that their principal audience is the public. Flight Crowd is working to make the concept of AAM understandable to the public, as well as to encourage students and youth to enter this new technology field. I believe that our missions are both compatible and necessary.
Q: What resources do you recommend to learn about what you are doing or AAM in general?
A: The Vertical Flight Society at www.vtol.org is a great resource. I also want to add CAMI’s website, of course! www.communityairmobility.org. There you will find our growing body of resources. We are also developing a curated collection of outside resources that will be on our website soon.
Q: How can people reach you or learn more?
Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an intIernationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, a columnist for several magazines,recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. For more information, visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.