Editor's note: This blog post features two of sessions from TRAM Summit 2023, Beyond the Horizon with Billy Nolen and Flying Forward with Guillaume Catry.
In October 2023, Tulsa Innovation Labs was proud to host one of the nation’s premier conferences showcasing important developments and dialogues revolving around the world of advanced aerial mobility (AAM) technologies at the two-day TRAM Summit 2023 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
TRAM Summit featured principal industry stakeholders with experiences and talents originating from across the world. Kicking off the summit in the opening fireside chat, Billy Nolen, former acting FAA Administrator, spoke about his experiences in leading the largest transportation agency of the United States government.
He expressed that AAM technologies were here to stay – and that the FAA was carefully balancing the ease of their integration into U.S. airspace with operational safety in such a way that their continued development was fully embraced by all. Mr. Nolen added, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”
This is precisely where less-densely populated parts of the United States – such as Tulsa’s surrounding regions – play a pivotal role in ensuring AAM industry leaders meet America’s high standards in autonomous aviation operational safety. This is the fundamental goal of the TRAM – Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility – Summit, to promote Tulsa’s “right-to-win" in the development of a regional AAM technology cluster.
In fact, Mr. Nolen commended Tulsa for its ambitious goal of transitioning this region of America’s Heartland into a global leader in the research and development of AAM technologies and for doing its part in capturing this rapidly growing market. This is indeed a smart investment of time and resources worth of pursuing, especially considering the total number of drones in America’s airspace was projected to grow upward to 3 million by 2027, as stated by the FAA.
According to “Billy Nolen’s crystal ball,” he predicts fully autonomous AAM vehicle operations will be commonplace in the United States by 2033. Without a doubt, the creation of a 114-nautical-mile-long, Beyond Visual Line of Sight test range over sparsely populated, rural land, aptly named Skyway Range, will certainly aid in the continued proliferation of completely autonomous AAM technologies.
Along the same vein, in a later panelist discussion, Guillaume Catry, CEO of WindShape, chimed in with his perspective. In early 2023, WindShape announced a strategic partnership with the Osage Nation to build an indoor drone testing facility at the Skyway36 Droneport and Technology Innovation Center in Tulsa. “What about data quality?” he asked his fellow panelists.
This is rightly the shared sentiment presented by Billy Nolen in his discussion. How can one be assured that their innovative, aerial technological advancement is one that conforms to the FAA’s high standards of safety? Answer: It must be repeatedly tested in a variety of different environments, producing results that demonstrate a high degree of operational safety in a multitude of situations.
We are inevitably advancing towards a future airspace increasingly shared with pilot-less, fully autonomous unmanned aircraft, and we must be certain that safety remains of utmost importance. WindShape aims to provide drone manufacturers with indoor environmental simulation spaces, granting them the tools necessary to collect precious data needed to ensure regulatory benchmarks are met and exceeded.
Now, imagine yourself standing atop hilly, lush grasslands with drones whizzing by overhead. Some are carrying small packages out for delivery, and others are spreading seeds across a vast field from above. That futuristic vision is closer than you might think, and it is happening right here in America’s heartland. The 2023 TRAM Summit helped demonstrate that we are rapidly progressing towards making that vision a reality, and that Tulsa’s one-of-a-kind, continuously developing assets merit recognition on a global stage.