FAA Reauthorization Bill Paves the Way for eVTOL Flight Integration and Advanced Air Mobility

Joby Aviation, Advanced Air Mobility, AAM, eVTOL integration

Joby aircraft

FAA reauthorization paves way for eVTOL flights

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

(The following is the last in a series of articles on how the recent passage of the bill to reauthorize the FAA positively impacts the drone and eVTOL industries.)

The U.S. has taken a giant step closer toward a future in which electric takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, popularly known as “flying taxis,” will be able to regularly transport people and cargo to and from existing airport.

The bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, which President Biden signed into law earlier this month, directs the FAA to work with eVTOL manufacturers, prospective operators and other relevant stakeholders to encourage the growth of an advanced air mobility (AAM) system and enable the safe entry of these next-generation aircraft into the national airspace system.

“It is the sense of Congress that the United States should take actions to become a global leader in advanced air mobility,” the bill states. The FAA is directed to prioritize work on the type certification of so-called powered-lift aircraft, and to publish “rulemakings and policy necessary to enable commercial operations.”

Two former high-ranking FAA officials praised the AAM sections of the legislation in a blog post on the website of eVTOL manufacturer Joby Aviation.

“By directing the FAA to prioritize the commercialization of Advanced Air Mobility, this Congress has implemented foundation legislation that sets the stage for U.S. leadership in the next 100 years of aviation,” wrote Michael Huerta, former FAA administrator and current member of the board of directors for both Delta Air Lines and Joby Aviation, and Dan Elwell, former acting FAA administrator and currently a member of Joby’s board of advisors.

“As part of reauthorizing the FAA for the next five years, Congress has included a mandate for the agency to prepare for the safe introduction of electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft into the national airspace system,” the blog post states. “These aircraft, designed to be quieter and more sustainable than the airplanes and helicopters in the sky today, will reimagine our relationship with aviation and chart a course for the decarbonization of the sector.”

The Joby officials said the reauthorization bill helps promote the development of an AAM system by:

  • Prioritizing the dedication of resources to the type certification of novel aircraft and propulsion systems;
  • Finishing development of the Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) that covers the pilot training and operations of powered-lift aircraft;
  • Modernizing and electrifying existing aviation infrastructure, with an eye towards the creation of the next generation of infrastructure, called vertiports;
  • Updating the FAA’s existing bilateral aviation safety agreements with civil aviation authorities around the globe to ensure aircraft certified in the U.S. can be expediently introduced into foreign markets.

“By mandating the FAA to lean into AAM, Congress aims to ensure that the FAA will serve as a driving force for innovation and continued U.S. leadership while keeping safety at the heart of its mission,” the blog post states.

Vertiport construction prioritized

Lilium AJW Aviation Partnership, eVTOL integrationLilium AJW Aviation Partnership, eVTOL integrationGerman aerospace company Lilium also applauded the passage of the FAA reauthorization bill. “After working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for effective eVTOL policies in the bill, Lilium is pleased to see that several electric aviation initiatives are prioritized in the final bill,” the company, which developed the Lilium Jet VTOL aircraft, said in a statement.

Lilium noted that the legislation places a high priority on the construction of infrastructure for eVTOL aircraft, including the establishment of new guidance for a performance-based vertiport design by the end of 2025, as well as establishing an updated process for environmental assessments for vertiports.

To ensure that the buildout of a system of vertiports in not bogged down in a sea of environmental regulations, the reauthorization bill directs the FAA administrator to apply any applicable categorical exclusions to the construction process, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. If further directs the administrator, after consultation with the Council on Environmental quality, to take steps to establish additional categorical exclusions for the construction of vertiports on airport property.

In addition, Lilium welcomed the section of the legislation that calls for the FAA to update its Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) on Powered-Lift Certifications and Operations by the end of 2024, which the eVTOL developer said “is essential for the success of this innovative industry.”

The final rule will “provide a practical pathway for pilot qualification and operation. It will also establish performance-based requirements for energy reserves and other range- and endurance-related requirements; and provide for a combination of pilot training requirements, including simulators, to ensure the safe operation of powered-lift aircraft. The rule also will ensure that the qualifications for eVTOL aircraft pilots are in line with qualifications outlined by civil aviation authorities.

“We are encouraged to see lawmakers take concrete steps toward ensuring the creation of operating rules necessary for eVTOL aircraft,” said Lilium CEO Klaus Roewe. “The U.S. is a globally important market for aircraft like the Lilium Jet and we welcome this additional guidance from Congress as we seek dual certification in both the U.S. and at home in Europe.”

Third-party air traffic systems approved

Another part of the reauthorization bill that is expected to help spur the growth of AAM and encourage the development of vertiports on existing airport sites is Section 932. This section sets up a mechanism for approving the establishment of third-party service providers, including developers of aircraft traffic management systems, “to support the safe integration and commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems.”

In a letter to congressional leaders, a coalition of like-minded companies said the regulations would “result in an approval process for all third-party services that are required for safe and successful UAS operations.” The resulting third-party air traffic management systems would “deliver operation support for remotely piloted and autonomous aircraft in controlled and uncontrolled airspace,” the coalition, led by AURA Network Systems, said.

“This approach is paramount for the entire ecosystem of third-party service providers, upon which all AAM operators rely,” the letter states.

Other members of the coalition include: The Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Merlin Labs, Reliable Robotics, SkyGrid and Wisk Aero.

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Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.


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