FAA ‘Modifying’ Approach to eVTOL Certification

In a move that the FAA says will not “add delay” to completing type certification, the agency says it is “modifying its regulatory approach” to certificating electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

eVTOL Aircraft

The FAA’s change comes as three major U.S. eVTOL developers, including Joby Aviation, are well along in their type certification processes. [Courtesy: Joby Aviation]

The FAA says it is “modifying its regulatory approach” to certificating electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, a move that the agency says will not add delays to completing type certification.

Until now, major U.S. eVTOL developers such as Joby Aviation (NYSE: JOBY), Beta Technologies, and Archer Aviation (NYSE: ACHR) have been moving toward type certification under Part 23 regulations for light aircraft. 

On Monday, the FAA said it now plans to certify eVTOLs as powered-lift aircraft—an existing category—and, in the “long term,” develop additional powered-lift regulations “to safely enable innovation” for “operations and pilot training.”

Short term, the agency plans to issue type certificates in the powered-lift category under its “special class” process in FAR 21.17(b) of the regulations, using the performance-based airworthiness standards contained in Part 23’s small airplane regulations. 

“This ‘special class’ process is designed to address the many novel features of unique aircraft such as these emerging powered-lift designs,” the FAA said. “This regulatory framework already exists, and this approach is consistent with international standards.”

The emerging eVTOL industry aims to create battery-powered aircraft that can fly short distances over traffic congested cities, with minimal noise and without creating carbon emissions.

FAA: No Delay Expected

The FAA told FLYING in a written statement Monday night that it does “not expect this adjustment to our approach will add delay to completing [the] type certification process and receiving operational approval.” 

“The agency is working with applicants who currently have projects underway to ensure minimal disruption to their certification timeline,” the FAA said. Archer, Joby, and Beta have all said they expect type certification in time for their aircraft to enter service in 2024.

In fact, last March, Joby Aviation—which officially began its type certification process in 2018—announced the FAA had approved its initial systems and compliance reviews, including controls for flight, propulsion, and battery management.

Joby declined to comment on the FAA’s policy adjustment, and Archer and Beta have not yet responded to FLYING’s request for comment. 

Last September, Archer received FAA approval for its G-1 Certification Basis, establishing airworthiness and environmental requirements necessary to achieve type certification under Part 23. 

 ‘A Simpler Pathway’

In a statement to FLYING, an FAA spokesperson said “the change is part of the agency’s efforts to safely and efficiently integrate new types of aircraft into the nation’s aerospace system, while providing a simpler pathway for applicants to obtain the necessary FAA approvals.”

The FAA’s modified regulatory approach was first reported late Monday by The Air Current

The agency and Congress have been working for years to create a smooth pathway to certification for eVTOL developers without having to completely revamp existing rules that were intended for traditional aircraft.

Many of the air taxi designs currently under development are winged aircraft augmented with vertical lift provided by rotors or tilt-rotors driven by battery-powered motors. 

“The FAA’s regulations were designed for traditional airplanes and helicopters,” the FAA said in Monday’s statement. “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.”

Certification Process Being Audited

The change comes two months after a memo from the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General’s office announced it would conduct an audit aimed at examining the FAA’s certification process. 

The audit is expected to be completed sometime next year.

Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.

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