As momentum around Advanced Air Mobility (“AAM”) continues to build, regulators have taken several recent steps in support of the development and commercialization of electric vertical take-off and landing (“eVTOL”) aircraft. eVTOLs are an innovative and emerging AAM technology with potential to deliver sustainable passenger and cargo transportation in urban, inter-city, and rural use cases, using electric power to take off, hover, and land vertically. The regulatory regime for eVTOLs and AAM is rapidly taking shape, and stakeholder awareness and engagement will be critical on issues such as infrastructure, streamlining regulations across jurisdictions, and aircraft certification. Recent developments in these areas include:
- On March 2, 2022, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) published a Federal Register notice requesting public comments on a draft Engineering Brief (EB) 105 for Vertiport Design.
- On March 3, 2022, the FAA and the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (“UK CAA”) issued a joint statement announcing that both regulators would streamline eVTOL regulations and safety standards to expedite their integration into the aviation industry.
- On March 7, 2022, pursuant to a request from the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (“DOT OIG”) announced an audit of the FAA’s certification of Urban Air Mobility (“UAM”) aircraft, including eVTOLs.
Below are summaries of these recent regulatory developments.
FAA EB for Vertiport Design
As part of its efforts to support the integration of eVTOLs into the national airspace, the FAA is developing guidance for aircraft facilities that will accommodate eVTOL aircraft in the future. The draft EB 105 provides interim safety standards for the aviation facilities that eVTOL aircraft use for take-off and landing, commonly referred to as “vertiports” and “vertistops.” While the EB 105 design guidance is written for eVTOL aircraft, it also includes modifications to new and existing helicopter and airplane landing facilities. EB 105 is intended to serve as the FAA’s initial interim guidance on these matters and will be updated over time to address new developments in aircraft and technology as they arise.
EB 105 acknowledges the existence of a variety of vertiport designs currently under development, and draws on the FAA’s research of composite (or reference) aircraft performance characteristics to develop recommended safety standards. The FAA is seeking public comments on the draft EB 105 to help inform the development of its final EB for Vertiport Design, which it would like to publish later this year. Public comments are due on April 18, 2022. Additionally, the FAA is hosting a virtual industry day meeting on March 29, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. ET (registration and other information here), where it will discuss key aspects of EB 105 and provide an opportunity for questions.
FAA and UK CAA Joint Statement on eVTOL Aircraft
In a March 3rd joint statement, the FAA and UK CAA acknowledged the potential of eVTOL and other AAM aircraft to significantly benefit the public and committed to supporting the development, operation, and integration of eVTOLs. In support of this commitment, the regulators announced they are engaged in a series of bilateral and multilateral discussions to facilitate the certification and validation of “new eVTOL aircraft, production, continued airworthiness, operations, and personnel licensing.” The statement emphasized the need to maintain high safety standards, including the use of existing regulatory frameworks with a strong safety record to streamline and expedite integration.
Audit of FAA’s Certification of UAM Aircraft
In connection with a request from the Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Subcommittee on Aviation, the DOT OIG announced on March 7th that it will be conducting an audit of the FAA’s aircraft certification process with respect to applying existing airworthiness standards and guidance to eVTOL and other UAM aircraft. The audit’s objective is to determine the FAA’s progress in establishing the basis for certification of UAM aircraft, including ensuring the safety of novel features and providing guidance to applicants. The audit announcement noted the FAA is currently reviewing applications for certifying eVTOL aircraft, using existing Federal Aviation Regulations for aircraft certification, and that the FAA is currently deciding if UAM vehicles will be 14 CFR 21.17(b) (special class) or 14 CFR 23 with special conditions (summarized in our prior publication here). The DOT OIG plans to begin its audit in late March 2022.
Before eVTOL and other AAM/UAM aircraft can be deployed commercially at scale, regulators will need to work through the novel issues presented by these aircraft, including certification processes, collaboration across jurisdictions, and critical infrastructure such as vertiports. A new regulatory framework addressing aircraft design, production, airworthiness, and operational certification must be developed and implemented before eVTOL and other AAM/UAM aircraft can reach their full potential. AAM/UAM operators, manufacturers, and other stakeholders will play a critical role in engaging with regulators throughout the development of the necessary frameworks, including by participating in the public comment processes. In future publications, we will provide additional insight on key issues such as AAM regulatory certification processes and critical infrastructure.