The emergence of transformative airborne technology to transport people and goods in a new, environment-friendly way has led to the formation of the Urban Air Mobility/Advanced Air Mobility aircraft class of vehicles – a concept that integrates new, transformational aircraft designs and flight technologies into existing and modified airspace operations.
With a new category of aircraft design and operation on the fore, the next sensible thing to do was to implement a set of rules/regulations that would certify these designs and safely integrate them into the aviation ecosystem.
The FAA has downplayed the recent suggestions that it is propagating fundamental changes to the process for certifying eVTOL aircraft although it has confirmed that it will be modifying its regulatory approach for certification of powered-lift operations and the pilots that operate these aircraft.
*A powered lift aircraft takes off and lands vertically under engine power but uses a fixed-wing for horizontal flight
According to the FAA, it now plans to certify eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft-an existing category, and, in the “long term,” develop additional powered-lift regulations “to safely enable innovation” for “operations and pilot training.”
In the short term, the FAA plans to use its “special class” process in 14 CFR 21.17(b) to type certificate powered-lift aircraft, to address the unique features of emerging powered-lift models.
This ‘special class’ process is designed to address the many novel features of unique aircraft such as these emerging powered-lift designs. This regulatory framework already exists, and this approach is consistent with international standardsthe FAA said
Apparently, this type of certification will use the performance-based airworthiness standards found in Part 23 of the FAA regulations. Nevertheless, the FAA has also implied that any changes will be more gradually implemented and this should come as a relief to eVTOL aircraft developers, who were working by the Part 23 framework as the basis for type certification.
Our process for certifying the aircraft themselves remains unchanged. All the development work done by current applicants remains valid and the changes in our regulatory approach should not delay their projectsFAA
Adding to this, a spokesperson for the agency further added that the 21.17b framework “allows for Part 23 certification standards. This has led some industry groups- like the Vertical Flight Society and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association express their frustration over the ambiguous statement made by the FAA.
Part 23 is the appropriate airworthiness standard for electric aircraft, whether the propellers thrust forward (eCTOL/eSTOL aircraft) or vertically (eVTOL). This is what the industry has been expecting for more than a decadesaid Mike Hirschberg- executive director of The Vertical Flight Society
According to Hirschberg, “21.17 (b)” results in a special product that doesn’t fit into operational constructs around the world. He further highlighted that using it as an airworthiness framework could significantly dampen operations of U.S. certificated aircraft in other countries as it isn’t internationally recognized.
The FAA needs to work with the eVTOL community more closely if the agency wants to continue to lead in aviation in the coming decade, he says.
Major U.S. eVTOL developers such as Joby Aviation, Beta Technologies, and Archer Aviation have been moving towards type certification under Part 23 regulations for light aircraft.
What do the industrial heads have to say?
Honeywell welcomes any efforts to standardize and harmonize UAM certification standards. The industry needs clarity and consistency to achieve safe operations at scalesaid Jia Xu, CTO and Senior Director of Engineering, Unmanned Aerial Systems/Urban Air Mobility at Honeywell Aerospace
Archer, Joby, and Beta are optimistic about getting their models type-certified in time to enter service in 2024.
Joby very recently received its FAA Part 135 certificate which would allow it to start on-demand commercial air taxi operations.
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