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RTCA’s Terry McVenes on bringing government, industry together to facilitate AAM

By Alex Scerri | January 3, 2023

Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 6 seconds.

RTCA Inc. has recently announced that it will be holding a members-only workshop to assess how to best prepare government and industry members for the developments that advanced air mobility (AAM) will bring to the aviation ecosystem.

With this workshop, RTCA’s goal is to explore how it can support members’ development and regulatory efforts in the following AAM areas: safety and security, thrust/lift, electrical, avionics, flight operations, ground operations and infrastructure, concept of operations, electromagnetic hazards and more.

Terry McVenes is the president and CEO of RTCA Inc. RTCA Image

The workshop will be held on Jan. 11, 2023, at RTCA’s headquarters. It is open to all government and industry members of RTCA, and registration is open until Jan. 5.

Vertical spoke to Terry McVenes, president and CEO of RTCA Inc., to get his insight on AAM, his organization’s interest in this emerging industry, and what prompted RTCA to hold this workshop.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Alex Scerri: Terry, can you give us some background on your career and path to RTCA?

Terry McVenes: I graduated in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado and also spent the last two years of college as a flight instructor as I had concurrently worked on my flight ratings.

Finishing college, I joined Boeing as an engineer for just over a year but decided that I didn’t really want to design airplanes, but instead fly them. I left to join a small regional airline, Rocky Mountain Airways in Denver, and after about seven years, I transitioned to U.S. Airways. During that time, I got involved doing safety related work for the Air Line Pilots Association [ALPA].

When 9/11 happened, I was asked to come to Washington, D.C., to help on a temporary basis, which then led me to be nominated as executive air safety chairman for ALPA, which represented about 50 carriers.

In 2008, I returned to Boeing as director of system safety and regulatory affairs. I retired from Boeing in 2018 and was enjoying a bit of downtime when I was asked to come to RTCA to serve as their president.

Alex Scerri: How would you explain the function and mission of RTCA?

Terry McVenes: Safety is certainly at the core of everything we do, and our ethos is to promote safety through collaboration. We are an independent standards development organization [SDO] that is unique in that we are one of the few that is solely dedicated to the aviation industry. 

Our role is to inspire the creation and implementation of integrated performance standards. These can then serve as the basis for the assurance of safety, security, sustainability and overall health of the air transportation ecosystem.

Alex Scerri: You recently announced that on Jan. 11, 2023, RTCA will be holding a members-only AAM workshop. Was there any specific initiator for this, either within or outside RTCA, such as the AAM Summit at the White House last August?

Terry McVenes:  We’ve been working on the periphery of this topic for a while. The White House event was certainly a big driver. It brought together a lot of the stakeholders in the AAM community, including the industry, as well as the regulator. It offered me the opportunity to have some direct interaction during the day with many of our members.

The Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] has also become more engaged on this topic in recent months. However, there really didn’t seem to be a unified approach to address the entire scope of what is needed by both industry and the regulator. There were a lot of isolated activities — by us and other SDOs — but I think what is really needed right now is to step back and have a wider strategic perspective on what is required to move forward.

We are very membership-focused at RTCA. My thought was to bring the members together and understand what the needs of our members are, rather than what we think needs to be done, and then put a plan in place to move forward in a coordinated and efficient manner.

Alex Scerri: Will you be looking to collaborate with any of these other SDOs on this subject?

Terry McVenes: Absolutely. In fact, coordination with some of the other SDOs is going to be imperative.  We don’t want to be duplicating any work or working on things that are already completed. Our primary partner will be EUROCAE as it is with most of the standards work that we do.

This ensures that we develop technically equivalent and harmonized standards for both the U.S. and Europe. The other SDOs will be involved as well. There is plenty of work to go around and a lot of things that need to be done, so coordination and collaboration will be essential.

Alex Scerri: Your January workshop lists at least eight topics for discussion. Which part of AAM technology do you think will be more challenging from the standards aspect?

Terry McVenes: I think it will be the concept of operations [CONOPS]. One of the most challenging aspects is going to be the integration into the national airspace system.

A lot of work is being done on the vehicles themselves, which are going to have some amazing capabilities. However, the common denominator for all of them is that they need access to the airspace.

Integrating them with legacy operations by defining what those performance standards might be for this integration is going to be quite challenging.

Alex Scerri: With the clear backing of the Administration seen in the White House AAM Summit and the support of the AFWERX program, when would you expect the first AAM electric aircraft to be certified in the U.S.?

Terry McVenes: I’m not going to try to predict a date. A lot depends on how both industry and regulators work together and it’s going to take a concerted effort by both.

In our case, we can’t expect the FAA to unilaterally figure out what is needed and at the same time, the industry cannot come to the regulator with 200 different ways of doing business. Therefore, I think the key will be that the more that we can all work together, the quicker these aircraft will get to the marketplace.

Alex Scerri: Is there anything else you would want to share with the AAM community?

Terry McVenes: One of the things that really excites me about some of the new technologies that the AAM community is bringing to the market is not only what they can do for this new industry itself, but also the value they can bring to legacy operations.

We have a unique opportunity to raise the safety bar for all of aviation on behalf of the traveling public and that is where I really see a lot of potential.

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