The FAA recently issued the first conditional approval for a public-use vertiport at Allen C. Perkinson Blackstone Army Airfield (KBKT) in Blackstone, Virginia, a key milestone for the AAM industry and critical first step towards developing sufficient infrastructure for large-scale AAM operations.  A public-private partnership (PPP) at the KBKT vertiport will enable innovative research on instrument flight operations and air traffic management, which will benefit the industry as it develops vertiport designs, standards, procedures, and related infrastructure based on the evolving operational environment.  State and local support of infrastructure development and research will continue to be vital to AAM, including community engagement, planning, zoning, and permitting, and PPPs such as the vertiport research initiative at KBKT.  The project at KBKT may serve as a model for future collaborations, combining state funding and private investment to enable groundbreaking research and regulatory approval.

KBKT is a dual-use airport for military and civilian flight operations.  In a project supported by the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) and other state entities, aerial navigation services company NAVOS Air was the proponent of the vertiport at KBKT as part of a research project using UAS to represent larger AAM aircraft for instrument flight operations research.  The goal of developing these instrument procedures is to facilitate the integration of emerging airspace users with legacy users, while maximizing the efficiency and safety of airspace in the new era of Advanced Air Mobility.

By leveraging existing approved infrastructure methods modified for new use cases and research applications, NAVOS Air aims to enable AAM operations sooner and to inform the development of future air traffic management systems and facilities.  At the FAA AAM Summit in August, the FAA and industry stakeholders emphasized the need for near-term collaboration on AAM infrastructure and related research, including vertiports and air traffic management.  As the FAA is in the process of updating its September 2022 interim vertiport design guidance, research projects like the vertiport at KBKT provide an opportunity for the industry to learn from testing of key AAM infrastructure elements and to inform future FAA guidance and policy.  The FAA expects to update its vertiport guidance in 2024 and to publish an Advisory Circular by 2025.

With the anticipated start of AAM air taxi service in 2025, momentum is growing for developing AAM infrastructure including vertiports.  The vertiport approval at KBKT demonstrates the industry’s progress in recent years and opens the door for important research, testing, and collaboration between government and industry to enable safe and expedited operations at scale.