The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

FAA Redefines Commercial Operating Rules to Include New Powered-lift eVTOL Aircraft

The FAA is proposing changes to its regulatory definitions covering air carriers to create scope for including new powered-lift aircraft such as eVTOL models in existing rules. On November 21, the U.S. air safety agency issued a notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) covering changes that would allow it to determine how powered-lift aircraft that can’t be categorized as airplanes or rotorcraft could be regulated under its definitions of various types of air carrier operations, including scheduled airline services and on-demand charter.

According to the FAA, the revised definitions represent “an important step toward making commercial air taxi operations a reality,” and it will allow 60 days for industry comments after the NRPM appears in the Federal Register. “This powered-lift definitions rule lays that foundation that will allow operators to use powered-lift aircraft,” the agency said in a written statement. “This is important because our regulations have to cover powered-lift aircraft for them to be able to operate commercially.”

In tandem with this initiative, the FAA is developing rules for certifying pilots for powered-lift aircraft and new operational requirements. It said these proposed rules should be published next summer and will be finalized in time for the first eVTOL aircraft to complete type certification. 

Last week, FAA Administrator Billy Nolen indicated that eVTOL commercial operations could start in early 2025. This tallies with the expectations of several of the new manufacturers, including Joby and Archer

There is plenty of significant detail in the 98-page NPRM, with multiple tweaks to existing definitions and granular exemptions for the new aircraft. The proposed changes would impact regulations covering the Part 135 rules under which many of the new eVTOL aircraft are expected to operate under in air taxi services, but also Part 121 rules that generally apply to scheduled airlines. 

The FAA wants to make adjustments to factors such as the minimum number of passenger seats since many early powered-lift models will carry no more than four passengers and a pilot. There are implications for regulations such as flight-time limitations and rest requirements for pilots.

The NPRM also addresses Part 119 rules covering requirements to maintain current operations specifications and employ suitably experienced personnel. For instance, powered-lift operators will be required to have at least one chief pilot for each type of aircraft in their fleet, as well as directors of operations and of maintenance. 

Companies like Joby and Archer that plan to operate their own aircraft for commercial air services will need to make significant investments to meet the operational requirements of the FAA and other leading international regulators, and much of this work will need to be done well ahead of type certification. Since the start-ups are embarking on this path with no experience in commercial flight operations, they will need to recruit seasoned professionals at a time of skills shortages across the air transport sector.

Earlier this month, the FAA published the airworthiness criteria it intends to use to certify Joby's four-passenger eVTOL aircraft.