The Future of Vertical Mobility in the Dallas Metroplex
By: Dawn Zoldi
They say everything is bigger in Texas. When it comes to drones and advanced aerial mobility (AAM), nothing could be more accurate. The state has put itself high up on the leaderboard in terms of opportunities and forward-leaning initiatives. And Ernest Huffman, Aviation Planning and Education Program Manager for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) has put it there.
The NCTCOG is a voluntary association of, by and for local governments, to assist in regional planning. Serving a 16-county region of North Central Texas, centered on the two urban centers of Dallas and Fort Worth (DFW), the COG is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for regional planning for all modes of transportation. It spans across 44 cities, with a combined population of more than seven million people. Its swim lanes include connected and automated vehicles, freight, emergency management and transit operations, in addition to aviation.
On the aviation front specifically, over 900 companies in the aerospace and transportation industry call this area home and provide about one out of every six jobs in the area. The COG’s area of responsibility is also home to over 400 aviation facilities, including 31 national, public and internationally accepted airports.
Originally from New York, Huffman now spends his time in the DFW area managing numerous programs for the COG including the Aviation Education Initiative, Regional Aviation System Plan and the North Texas UAS Safety and Integration Initiative. Huffman created the Initiative to mitigate reckless UAS operations around the high-volume DFW airport and to promote the safe integration of UAS technology into its regional airspace. The group has now grown to over 300 public and private members including government representatives at the federal, state, and local levels as well as members of global private aviation, UAS industry, nonprofits, academia and others.
The UAS Safety and Integration Task Force has four distinct working groups including Education and Public Awareness, Legislation and Policy, Training and Workforce and Testing and Integration (more on this later…). The Education and Public Awareness group hosts the popular monthly virtual . Maggie Schuster, CEO of Your Aerial View, leads this project (See previous coverage of Schuster ).
But bigger is better and Huffman, who received his Bachelors in Aeronautical Science from Dowling College and his Master’s in aviation from Florida Institute of Technology and has 19 plus years in the aviation industry, has directed his team to now also focus on vertical mobility.
This May, under Huffman’s leadership, the , “to study the potential of drone technology and integrate it into future transportation plans.” The NCTCOG was one of only five groups selected to conduct a review of cargo-carrying drones and automated air taxis during a series of at least four future workshops. “NASA will help us with all of these programs,” Huffman explained “They will provide lessons learned on intellectual property, provide us with subject matter experts to connect the dots, guide us in our funding efforts and all other elements we need to succeed in the AAM space.”
This is big news because Porche Consulting projects the vertical mobility market to be worth billions of dollars by 2035 in the form of inspections ($34B), goods ($4B), passenger travel (intracity $21B and city-to-city $11B) and supporting services ($4B). Texas hopes to tap into all of this and reap many other benefits from vertical mobility in the next five years as well. Huffman and his team cite an Airspacelink Case Study that provides impressive statistics on the plusses of AAM, such as recovering up to $592.5M per year in consumer time savings, helping 22,000 people with mobility challenges obtain prescription medications, avoiding up to 294M miles on the road/averting up to 580 vehicle accidents annually and reducing up to 113,900 tons of carbon emissions per year, among other things.
The NCTCOG has planned the future of its vertical mobility ecosystem around four supply chains, a concept they borrowed from Porche: Supply Chain 1 – AAM Ground Infrastructure – Building Vertiports and Multiports; Supply Chain 2 – Managing the Air Traffic Flow; Supply Chain 3 – eVTOL Aircraft Manufacturers; and Supply Chain 4 – Operators of eVTOLS and sUAS.
“We were not thinking about integrating by focusing on supply chain development, in the beginning,” Huffman admitted. “But we are now.”
Huffman and his team drafted a Resolution Supporting the Safe and Efficient Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area’s Existing Transportation Ecosystem to get the COG’s cities onboard for adopting UAS and AAM tech. The 44 cities signed this in early 2021.
Within the next year, Huffman plans on launching public safety beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, remote operations of people and instituting a BVLOS training program for the COG’s Public Safety Unmanned Response Team (PSURT). In 2022, he also plans to incorporate BVLOS operations and synergies with other smart cities initiatives, such as university BVLOS operations, package delivery and integration with the COG’s Automated Vehicle Pilot Program. This last effort Huffman also refers to as the “Automated Vehicle 2.0 Program.” The COG recently allocated approximately $30M in funding to create pilot programs for driverless cars around the metroplex.
The City of Arlington AAM Pilot Program, in the entertainment district near AT&T Stadium, will incorporate all of the previously mentioned BVLOS initiatives through aircraft detection systems, networked low altitude micro weather data, airspace management, and ground/airspace situational awareness systems. The weather system will be part of a Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of Atmosphere Weather Radar System, consisting of seven large radar towers that provide up-to-the minute details to benefit the drone and AAM communities. The end game is not only to holistically network systems, but to integrate multimodal transportation. “We hope to link DFW Airport with the Dallas Vertiport and tie in one of the automated vehicle pilots in Dallas,” said Huffman.
“Community engagement will also be a big part of this,” he noted. “Social equity, inclusivity and accessibility will be a primary focus for us.” His team just created a new Community Integration Working Group (add that to the 4 above) to characterize community concerns, identify legal and policy hurdles to clear for AAM and UAS, facilitate complex operations and funding. As part of this, North Texas plans to conduct an Environmental Justice Analysis for its vertiports, and from that, create a scalable public engagement program that can assist other states and countries.
For more information about the North Central Texas Council of Governments visit
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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