As eVTOL companies develop their aircraft with the declared goal of achieving FAA certification within the next two years or so, the agency appears to be clearing the path somewhat.
The regulator released a draft notice of proposed rulemaking, or NPRM, that would update the definition of air carriers to include powered-lift aircraft under the regulations covering commercial operations including airlines, charters, and air tours.
“This rule lays the foundation that will allow operators to use powered-lift aircraft,” the FAA said in the announcement.
For aircraft manufacturers, operators, and potential passengers, the FAA notice is a promising step toward development of a regulatory structure necessary for eVTOLs to enter service. The proposed changes also could ease the certification process for eVTOLs and other powered-lift aircraft.
“By adding the category of vertical-lift aircraft to the existing regulatory framework for commercial aircraft operations, the FAA continues to demonstrate U.S. leadership toward safely bringing revolutionary technologies to market,” a Joby Aviation spokesperson said.
The lack of rules governing eVTOL operations and the potentially long process for developing them have long been foreseen as obstacles to the nascent eVTOL industry.
“The FAA proposes to amend the regulatory definitions of certain air carrier and commercial operations,” the FAA said in its proposal, adding, “This proposed rule would add powered-lift to these definitions to ensure the appropriate sets of rules apply to air carriers’ and certain commercial operators’ operations of aircraft that FAA regulations define as powered-lift.
“This rule is an important step in the FAA’s integration of new entrant aircraft in the National Airspace System.”
In part because it is unclear how long the full integration of powered-lift aircraft into the airspace system might take, the FAA said it would allow the aircraft to operate under certain temporary provisions.
“In addition to this rulemaking, the FAA is proposing a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR), ‘Integration of Powered-Lift: Pilot Certification and Operations,’ to establish temporary operating and airman certification regulations for powered-lift,” the agency said. The SFAR would allow powered-lift operations to begin while the FAA collects data needed to establish permanent regulations.