March 16, 2023
Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) saw a number of developments in 2022, including the completion of a joint test by NASA and Joby Aviation on electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) noise levels and cross-country flight tests by Beta Technologies demonstrating the potential range of these new aircraft types. What will this year bring for AAM?
In the latest NBAA News Hour, experts weighed in on the regulatory, investment and public acceptance outlook for AAM in 2023.
The FAA’s 2022 determination that many AAM aircraft will be certificated under 14 CFR Part 21.17(b) rather than the recently amended Part 23 caused some consternation for OEMs that had already started their paths toward certification, panelists said.
However, after closer review, the directional shift didn’t create a significant burden from a certification perspective, according to Supernal’s Paul McDuffee, chair of NBAA’s Emerging Technology Committee.
“The FAA will still use performance standards versus very prescriptive standards, which is a cornerstone of the Part 23 amendment,” McDuffee said.
The agency has promised a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) proposal in 2023 to address the operations and pilot qualifications challenges resulting from the determination that eVTOLs will be classified under rules for powered-lift aircraft.
McDuffee reported a growing shift to look beyond certification of aircraft into how the industry will make them operational.
“Is there a clear definition of what success is when we enter into service?” asked McDuffee, adding, “The next 3-5 years is not the end game.”
Even after the SFAR is published, there will be more work to do on regulations to scale up.
The change in direction regarding certification under powered lift regulations caused an adjustment within AAM companies, which increases the cost of capital, said Kirsten Barktok Touw, founder and managing partner of Air Finance.
“We need regulatory guidance and certainty. The longer we go on without clear guidelines, the harder it is to plan and raise capital,” Touw said, explaining the regulatory environment and inflation creates headwinds for companies, especially in the U.S., which currently faces more regulatory uncertainty than some other countries.
Touw cautioned U.S. leadership in innovation is at stake, saying, “We have long been the leader in aerospace technology but that is at risk due to lack of regulatory clarity.”
Jeffrey Vincent, executive director of the FAA’s Office of Drone Integration, said the real hurdle to AAM operations is aircraft certification, not limitations of the air traffic system.
“We don’t have to come up with a new air traffic system to accommodate advanced air mobility vehicles,” he said, expressing confidence the current system can accommodate early stages of implementation.
Vincent added there is still significant work to be done in public acceptance for AAM, as many throughout the broader industry are unaware of how far technology has progressed in the past few years.
Meanwhile, Parimal Kopardekar, director of NASA Aeronautics Research Institute at NASA Ames Resource Center, reinforced the need for risk-based integration of AAM, stating,” Innovation requires strategic patience. It has to be balanced with the safety aspects.”