VTOL certification - where are we now? Revolution.Aero news #45

After much deliberation and discussion with hundreds of promising VTOL companies, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released its special condition for the development of VTOL aircraft in July – a basic framework for budding aircraft manufacturers wanting to build a VTOL to European certification standards.

EASA first initiated public consultation for airworthiness standards of passenger VTOLs in October last year, to help shape EASA’s first stage of a regulatory framework for VTOL certification and operation.

So, EASA invited companies to submit comments to shape the development of its new VTOL ‘special condition’. Here you can find a list of more than 1,000companies and individuals that submitted concerns about standards for certifying aircraft.

Following this, EASA’s “first building block” for safe VTOL operations, the basic framework outlined covers aircraft with a passenger-seating configuration of nine or fewer and a maximum certified take-off weight of 3,175 kg.

Patrick Ky, EASA executive director, said: “We are actively engaging with the industry to develop the right technical requirements to take benefit of the new technologies bringing safety and environmental benefits to the community. The establishment of a common set of conditions for the certification of these new concepts of vehicles will enable a fair competition on the European market, as well as clarity for future manufacturers and their investors.”

Attention has been drawn to EASA but it is far from the only regulatory body working with VTOL companies.

In January this year, the Airworthiness Department of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) released its own guidance on UAV airworthiness certification. Rather than drawing from a large pool of companies to develop the guidance, the CAAC worked with five selected Chinese UAV and VTOL companies – including EHang.

So far, all of EHang’s products, including its passenger eVTOL, have completed registration and the company is assisting the CAAC in analysing operational risks of VTOLs.

Perhaps the biggest potential VTOL market is the US and the FAA has been very vocal about wanting to talk with everybody and anybody to make sure these aircraft enter service with a safety framework and legislation in place.

Recently, the FAA issued its first airworthiness approval to Google’s unmanned drone delivery service Alphabet which – although not a VTOL operator or manufacturer – still flies unmanned air vehicles over densely populated areas.

Dan Elwell, the acting head of the FAA, took the stage at Uber Elevate in June to discuss the regulator’s attitude to VTOLs. When consumer drones hit the market earlier this decade, there were already millions of unaccounted-for drone aircraft in the US airspace with little to no regulation supporting them.

If air-taxi companies are to take off, the FAA wants to make sure that they do not run into a similar ‘wild west’ situation as they did with drones. At the Uber Elevate conference, Elwell said: “With drones, a whole new market appeared overnight, and we were left behind. That is why we are working with everyone to get it right this time.”

P.S. On the subject of certifying UAVs, the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation deployed a nationwide drone-management system developed by SkyGuide to track and manage drones in its national airspace. You can read more about it on Revolution.Aero.