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Advanced Air Mobility: Legal Authorities and Issues to Consider for Operations

GAO-24-106451 Published: Mar 14, 2024. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 2024.
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Fast Facts

Advanced Air Mobility is an emerging aviation concept that will use new types of aircraft and technology, such as electric aircraft that can take off and land vertically. Before new aircraft can be used, the FAA needs to certify the designs and regulate how they are operated.

In the near term, the FAA plans to use a combination of existing requirements—like air traffic control procedures—and temporary rules to ensure safe operations.

But according to aviation stakeholders, the FAA's approach may need to evolve in the long term. For example, current airspace regulations are designed for piloted planes and may be insufficient for autonomous aircraft.

Examples of Advanced Air Mobility Aircraft

Two images side-by-side showing an advance air mobility aircraft with forward facing propellers and one with upward facing propellers.

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What GAO Found

Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is an emerging concept of air transportation that will leverage new types of aircraft and innovative technologies, such as electrified propulsion systems, to move people and goods, while operating more quietly than traditional aircraft and with reduced aircraft emissions. In 2022, GAO reported that stakeholders said the federal government—including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT)—and industry will need to address a variety of issues before AAM operations can be widely implemented, including bringing AAM aircraft into commercial use.

DOT identified a variety of legal authorities that are relevant to the future regulation of civilian AAM operations, and FAA—which is responsible for ensuring the safety and efficiency of the U.S. aerospace system—has taken actions using these authorities. These actions include publishing proposed rules, developing interim guidance, and reviewing existing policies. For example:

  • Aircraft certification. FAA prescribes rules for aircraft certification and safety. FAA is in the process of certifying initial AAM aircraft designs using existing certification processes and rules.
  • Pilot and mechanic training. FAA determines the knowledge, experience, and training requirements for pilots and mechanics. In a June 2023 notice of proposed rulemaking, FAA proposed temporary pilot training standards that would apply to initial groups of AAM pilots. FAA said that it would develop rules on AAM mechanic certification at a later time, if needed.
  • Airspace management. FAA prescribes aircraft operational requirements, such as minimum flight altitudes. FAA's 2023 AAM Implementation Plan says that near-term AAM operations can be managed with existing air traffic control tools, procedures, and protocols.
  • Vertiport construction and noise management. FAA issued interim guidance on vertiport design standards and is considering the impact of AAM operations as the agency reviews its noise policy.

​​​​​​Officials from DOT and selected tribal, state, and local government officials generally agreed that FAA has exclusive legal authority over three of these topic areas—(1) certification and safety of AAM aircraft, (2) pilot and mechanic training, and (3) airspace management. Tribal, state, and local governments have certain legal authorities related to vertiport construction and noise management. For example, tribal, state, and local governments have the authority to develop and enforce zoning regulations, which would determine where vertiports could be built and could influence how communities experience noise from AAM aircraft.

According to government officials, industry stakeholders, and others we interviewed, there are certain issues to consider in the short term (present day through 2028) as the AAM industry develops, while other issues may be more relevant in the long term as AAM operations evolve (after 2028).

  • Issues for consideration in the short term. Officials with whom we spoke noted that they are awaiting the finalization of rules or guidance from DOT on key topics. For example, some local officials said that it would be premature to discuss changes to existing requirements for AAM aircraft vertiport infrastructure until FAA completes its recommendations for the clearance needed around AAM aircraft takeoff and landing locations.
  • Issues for consideration in the long term. In the longer term, some interviewees expressed the view that issues might arise in key areas as the industry develops and the tempo of AAM operations increase. For example, a few interviewees noted that the current approach for certifying AAM aircraft might become too time-consuming if manufacturers seek to certify numerous diverse AAM designs. In addition, some interviewees anticipated that current federal airspace management regulations will be appropriate for initial, piloted AAM operations, but as some of these aircraft are expected to be capable of autonomous flight, regulations will need to evolve to manage uncrewed, autonomous AAM aircraft.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act, enacted in October 2022, included a provision for GAO to conduct a study on the roles, responsibilities, and interests of federal, tribal, state, and local governments with regards to AAM.

This report describes (1) the legal authorities held by DOT relevant to the future regulation of civilian AAM operations, and actions taken relevant to these authorities, (2) relevant legal authorities of selected tribal, state, and local governments, and (3) issues to consider as the AAM industry develops, as identified by selected government entities and other stakeholders.

To address each objective, we focused on five key areas that we have previously found to be important to the development of AAM operations. These topic areas include:

  1. certification and safety of aircraft,
  2. pilot and mechanic training,
  3. airspace management,
  4. vertiport construction, and
  5. noise management.

For more information, contact Heather Krause at 202-512-2834 or

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