Springfield airport to host network for autonomous flights

AURA Network Systems’ first commercial network purpose-built for autonomous flights to be based in region

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A Virginia company working on a nationwide wireless network for autonomous cargo aircraft is establishing a Springfield presence.

AURA Network Systems’ first commercial network operations purpose-built for autonomous flight will be based at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, the company and the Ohio Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

The goal is a network that can enable connections where needed along an aircraft’s flight path.

“Everyone at Aura is very much aware of Ohio’s historic role in global aviation, so it’s both humbling and exciting to be part of Ohio’s leadership in the future of global aviation,” Bill Tolpegin, AURA chief executive, said in a statement. “Unlocking the tremendous economic and social potential of AAM (Advanced Air Mobility) is really nothing short of a new era of human flight, and these public-private collaborations are vital to getting us into that next era.”

AURA stands for Advanced Ultra Reliable Aviation.

In the near term, the company will not have a full-time staff in Ohio, a spokesman for the company said Tuesday.

The company’s system is essentially a communications network between pilots, air traffic controllers and what are expected to be, ultimately, uncrewed aircraft.

AURA installs “ground stations” or devices on cell towers or at local airports that provide a connectivity signal where customers need it, when they need it, creating a communication network, the spokesman said.

AURA says it is the only company in the nation with Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-approved licensed spectrum specifically geared to aviation, he said.

“Ohio is developing cutting-edge digital aviation infrastructure, and hosting AURA’s network certainly reflects our leadership in next-generation advanced air mobility, including autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft,” said Richard Fox, director of Ohio’s Uncrewed Aircraft System Center.

An announcement from AURA and ODOT cited a white paper by research firm NEXA Capital forecasting that says advanced air mobility in Ohio could mean “a thriving new industry providing some $13 billion in economic activity between now and 2045, some $2.5 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue, and some 15,000 full time jobs.”

The network will “empower urban air mobility and regional air cargo flights between Cincinnati and Columbus, creating a powerful economic ripple effect among local businesses, like fiber optic services, construction contractors, electricians and a whole host of logistics companies,” said AURA Chief Network Officer Mike Gagne.

The announcement came a day after Joby Aviation Inc., a producer of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, announced historic plans to build a manufacturing operation near Dayton International Airport.

It also came a day after the ribbon-cutting of the National Advanced Air Mobility Center of Excellence at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

“For the last decade, Ohio has worked to create an environment where Advanced Air Mobility innovators can test their capabilities and then grow their manufacturing operations,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition. “We’re proud to welcome AURA to the ‘Birthplace of Aviation,’ and we’re confident its redundant capabilities will attract an array of government and industry stakeholders to conduct both their flight testing and other operations at Springfield — especially those developing larger aircraft to fly at higher altitudes within the national airspace system.”

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