Finding new ways to move people and cargo safely, efficiently and affordably is not a simple task. But advanced air mobility, commonly known as AAM, is expected to help ease the burden.
Right now, Arkansas — like the rest of the United States — is facing severe supply chain and labor shortages. With the deployment of revolutionary aircraft, from single-passenger drones to large shuttle solutions, we can address these issues. And at the same time, we can help create thousands of good-paying jobs, spur billions in economic activity and put rapidly growing sectors, like the aerospace and defense industries, on a solid path for the future.
For many Arkansans, AAM is still a largely unknown or overlooked proposition. This “new era in air travel,” as NASA refers to it, is designed to help the nation serve “previously hard-to-reach urban and rural locations.” AAM promises affordable mobility through cutting-edge, dual-use technologies, such as flying taxis or regional electric planes in areas where surface transportation or existing aviation modes aren’t readily available. Once imagined only in cartoons and science fiction movies, these aircraft will deliver wide-ranging benefits including the long-term security of our economy and national security.
Imagine drones moving medicines or critical care to patients in rural communities. Or an autonomous aircraft shuttling passengers home after their flight lands at Clinton National or Northwest Arkansas National.
As part of a 2021 report for the Aerospace Industries Association, Deloitte conducted executive interviews and surveys to analyze the global race for AAM dominance. In its study, the consulting firm noted how the United States has an “opportunity to become a global leader in advanced mobility, but the flight is not expected to be easy.” Meeting this goal will require a clear national strategy to “deliver state-of-the-art AAM products that are safe, accessible and secure.”
Fortunately, Arkansas is quietly charging ahead to position itself as a model for AAM advancement — not only in the U.S. but across the globe.
This February, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility. Following his executive order, he tasked the advisory board with attracting businesses, startups, innovators and creators that can spearhead the development of AAM solutions. He also urged board members to identify state laws that may create barriers to advanced mobility and make commonsense policy recommendations, including potential incentives, to support future AAM growth.
Gov. Hutchinson’s announcement is a crucial step forward for AAM in Arkansas. But it is only the first piece of the puzzle. To truly become a hub for future mobility, we must expand Arkansas’s workforce. The governor has made important steps forward in this area as well, but the aerospace and defense industries can do more to assist.
As the Arkansas Aerospace and Defense Alliance (AADA) knows firsthand, we already have a strong foundation with more than 10,000 existing aerospace and defense employees across the state. We must better leverage existing higher education and training programs.
One potential conduit: a Center of Excellence for Aerospace, Defense and Future Mobility that would ensure coordination among educators and private-sector players. If created, the center would focus on supporting a highly trained and skilled aerospace and defense workforce; facilitating education and technology knowledge sharing; and increasing value-added production.
We should also foster long-term collaboration at in-person networking events like the AADA’s Mid-America Aerospace + Defense Summit from June 15-16 in Northwest Arkansas. While in Rogers, attendees will have the chance to hear from game-changing industry experts, local and national government officials, education and training champions as well as businesses. These conversations will allow us to learn about Arkansas’s current strengths and potential weaknesses so that we can inform our journey as an emerging leader in AAM.
Arkansas’ aerospace and defense industries has always embraced the state’s trailblazing spirit. And that is not expected to change any time soon. As Deloitte said in its report, “The emergence of [this] transformative airborne technology” represents the “next inflection point in the [industry’s] ongoing evolution.”
It’s time for Arkansas to capitalize on this opportunity by developing innovative future mobility and AAM solutions. If we do, the possibilities for economic growth are sky-high.
Chad Causey is the executive director of the Arkansas Aerospace and Defense Alliance, a trade association of public and private aerospace companies, government agencies and educational institutions. He is also the founder and president of Causey Law Firm, PA. For more information, visit ArkansasAerospace.com.