Revolution.Aero Uplift: ’Don’t worry about a thing’
When Bob Marley sang “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right”, you can bet he wasn’t singing about the FAA’s regulatory adjustments for eVTOLs. But it works just the same.
The FAA had previously planned to certify eVTOLs as mandated under Part 23 certification rules, now they will be seen as powered-lift aircraft. That’s a category first created to accommodate civil tilt-rotors.
An FAA statement read: “The FAA’s [Part 23 certification] regulations were designed for traditional airplanes and helicopters. However, these regulations did not anticipate the need to train pilots to operate powered-lift, which take off in helicopter mode, transition into airplane mode for flying, and then transition back to helicopter mode for landing.”
When reports surfaced last week the FAA was revising its certification protocols for eVTOLs, there was immediate concern this would mean delays and possibly loss of certification progress for US-based OEMs.
But there is no need to worry, according to David Hernandez, shareholder, Global Transportation Finance, Vedder Price. In fact he tells Revolution.Aero he’s surprised the FAA didn’t make these revisions sooner.
“I actually look at it as an improvement,” says Hernandez. “I have been dealing with aircraft certification for 20 years now and you see various evolutions of the process. When eVTOLs came about and before that UAS I think people realised the FAA didn’t have anything from a regulatory perspective to be able to certificate eVTOLS. It has taken many decades, literally, for certain aircraft to be certificated.”
Anyone who knew how the process works also knew there would have to be a new set of regulations to certificate eVTOLs. “So when the FAA said let’s put this square peg into a round hole with Part 23, I think most people realised it’s probably not realistic,” says Hernandez
Over the past decade or so that eVTOL developers have been moving through the certification process the FAA has learnt, says Hernandez. “I don’t think this is a reversal, it’s just a necessary transition, perhaps a modification, of the process. It reflects that the FAA and industry are very close and they’re fine-tuning the certification process.
None of the data collected over certifying processes in recent years is lost. That information and progress is actually helping to form these new set of regulations and certification framework.
Hernandez thinks the industry was largely in agreement that new regulations would be necessary, it is more a question of time. The FAA does not do anything particularly fast, but following incidents like the Boeing 737 MAX the FAA has become more cautious.
Greg Reigel, partner, Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton tells Revolution.Aero: “Its the FAA so I would certainly not be surprised by delays. I think there will still be a delay on the Part 23 aspect of this because that is [looking at] airworthiness standards. I think there may be delay in Part 21 certification where the FAA is trying to do the special certification within that Part. Also, you may have a delay if the aircraft is actually certified but then you may not have pilots available or regulatory guidance and training for pilots due to the aircraft’s certification in the powered-lift category.
Although the FAA said the decision comes as a result of the US Department of Transportation audit, he says the agency has not simply taken a 180-degree spin here.
Reigel concludes: “When it comes to this space there are high expectations and very optimistic outlooks on timing. Unfortunately, things just don’t happen quickly with the FAA, certainly from a regulatory point of view.”
Joby’s executive chairman, Paul Sciarra said there would be no adjustments to the firm’s plans in a recent quarterly earnings conference call. “I think that, fundamentally, the approach the FAA is taking here is mostly an administrative reclassification on the type certification side of things.”
Hernandez agrees: “I don’t think this is a seismic shift by any means. I view the FAA’s actions as making changes to ensure that the eVOTL certification process is safe.”
So, it does looks as though every little thing will be alright. Who knows, those three little birds could well be eVTOLs in a few years.