Industry sheds light on challenges still remaining for FAA in devising powered-lift rules


Back in June the FAA published its 160-page Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR), now the public comments are back in. 

The SFAR is intended to create a pathway to train the first cohort of pilots who will fly the initial winged-eVTOLs, which fall under the powered-lift category the FAA decided to go ahead with last year. However, despite recognition of the FAA’s efforts in putting the proposed rules together, industry reactions were mixed.

Operator Bristow said that, as a whole, the FAA’s proposed rules make a good start to overcoming the regulatory challenges around powered-lift. In many instances, it said the proposed new rules will have a positive impact on it. “Bristow agrees with the FAA’s proposals in Part 61 to require pilots to hold at least a commercial pilot’s license, pilots-incommand (PICs) to hold separate type ratings for each powered-lift aircraft they fly, and for pilots to obtain 40 of their 50 PIC hours simultaneously during instruction; as well as the Part 97 proposal to allow powered-lift aircraft to execute helicopter instrument approach procedures,” it noted.

That said, Bristow also said there are “certain areas” where the proposed rules will limit rather than encourage AAM innovation and integration. The operator noted that the proposed fuel reserve rule, whereby an eVTOL is required to have a 30-minute reserve in VFR conditions and 45-minutes in IFR conditions should be looked at. This is the same as a fixed-wing aircraft. 

By contrast helicopters are required to maintain a 20-minute and a 30-minute fuel reserve respectively.The reserve for helicopters is based on data collected in the 1960s and 70s which indicated that helicopters “have the ability to operate at lower speeds and with a significantly higher degree of manoeuvrability than airplanes”. Since that time, technological developments have created helicopters that are significantly more manoeuvrable than their counterparts from those decades, and this technology is being applied to powered-lift aircraft as well, said Bristow.

The firm also hit out at the proposed need for an air transport pilot license. Under the FAA’s proposed rules, operators of powered-lift aircraft in commuter operations will be required to obtain a Powered Lift Airline Transport Pilot license (PL ATP). But it pointed out there is no relief granted in the proposed rules for pilots to obtain the necessary experience to earn a PL ATP. “Bristow is concerned that without such relief, and with an extremely small pool of military pilots with powered-lift aircraft experience, the ability of entities to stand-up AAM commuter service using powered-lift aircraft will be severely hampered,” it said.

A 13-page letter from the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association (GAMA) noted “unprecedented burdens on industry arise as early as the FSB [FAA Flight Standardization Board]  process”. 

GAMA explained for traditional airplanes or helicopters requiring a type rating, the aircraft manufacturer submits its proposed type rating to FAA FSB members who already hold pilot certificates with the appropriate category and class. “Very few, if any, FAA FSB pilots hold a powered-lift category rating at the commercial level. The burden of providing FAA pilots with no fewer than 50 powered-lift flight hours is placed on the applicant manufacturer. The likelihood of multiple powered-lift aircraft manufacturers entering the FSB process simultaneously suggests this is not a one-time concern.” A number of eVTOL manufactures, including Joby, also said it would be very difficult for them to provide 50 powered-lift flight hours to the FAA’s FSB pilots who are part of the certification process.

GAMA’s comments are supported by a number of organisations including: Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).

Training solutions provider CAE provided a number of recommendations including: The requirement of a type rating, not a powered-lift category rating, for applicant pilots and initial cadre instructors and check pilots. If the category requirement is retained, allow for simulator time to count towards aeronautical experience and training requirements. Also, the provision of a pathway for simulator training to lead to a solo endorsement. CAE also calls on the FAA to leverage the FSB process in developing type rating requirements to include aeronautical experience, if determined necessary for each aircraft type.

CAE concluded: The U.S. will continue to lead the AAM industry if the proposed SFAR aligns more directly with ICAO standards and guidance. Manufacturers and operators in states that align closely with ICAO will have a less costly regulatory burden for airman certification while achieving the same safety goals and will better maximise the vertical capabilities and benefits of these aircraft. Alignment with ICAO and related rulemaking efforts may lead to compatibility with other CAA certification and rulemaking.

Close alignment with ICAO standards and guidance will allow U.S.-based manufacturers and operators to achieve earliest entry into service while maintaining the highest level of safety and ensuring the success of the AAM industry in the U.S. well into the future.”

Having a received in excess of 75 comments, the FAA will now review and analyse the feedback ahead of publishing the final rule which is expected before the end of 2024. 

Core topics