Earlier this month, the FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (“EASA”) released updated certification guidance for eVTOL. The FAA published a Draft Advisory Circular (“Draft AC”) 21.17-4, with broad guidance that will form the foundation for establishing certification criteria. The AC is open for comment until August 12, 2024. The same day, EASA updated its existing guideline and issued the Second Issue of the Special Condition for eVTOL, which reflects alignment with the FAA across certain performance criteria. A more streamlined regulatory certification framework will facilitate more efficient processes for manufacturers and greater harmonization of requirements globally – a hallmark of the aviation industry for decades.

Draft AC Provides Generally Applicable Certification Criteria:

Over the past few years, eVTOL manufacturers have been working closely with the FAA to develop certification standards for their unique aircraft. The Draft AC provides broader guidance to the industry by establishing how the FAA would apply its existing regulations to eVTOL certification. The requirements detailed in the AC will apply to all power lift vehicles that have a maximum gross weight of 12,500 pounds or less, a passenger seating configuration of six or less, and a battery-powered electric engine for propulsion. 

Appendix A details a variety of airworthiness criteria for eVTOLs, including safety requirements regarding the aircraft’s fire and lightening protection mechanism, energy storage, aircraft-level devices, and others. Rather than proposing precise specifications that manufacturers must follow, the FAA adopts a performance-based approach, allowing manufacturers to propose justifiable airworthiness criteria and showing compliance with applicable requirements. 

EASA Aligned its Certification Criteria with the US:

EASA first issued its comprehensive regulatory framework for urban air taxi flight operations in 2022. More recently in June, it updated its existing guidelines and issued the Second Issue of the Special Condition (“SC”) for eVTOL. Notably, the updated SC harmonized many of its technical specifications with the FAA’s Draft AC. For example, it increased the Maximum Certified Take-Off Weight (“MTOW”) from 7,000 pounds to about 12,500 pounds, aligning the US standard. 

While both systems employ a two-tier certification process, which allows eVTOL to receive either a basic or enhanced performance certification, some differences remain. For instance, the FAA has reserved a section in the AC to regulate the mandatory noise level of eVTOLs in the US, while EASA has not included such a requirement in the SC.

Implications for the Advanced Air Mobility Industry:

A predictable certification regime can help manufacturers reduce their time and costs spend on obtaining these certifications. For emerging eVTOL manufacturers, the obtainment of regulatory certifications can serve as important performance milestones that help them attract new investments. A harmonized and comprehensive certification approach will create a more efficient pathway for manufacturers to acquire government approvals and accelerate the commercial deployment of eVTOLs.