The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

On The Radar

Latest FAA Heliport Guidance Does Not Include Vertiports For eVTOL Aircraft

The FAA has issued its new and long-awaited heliport planning, design, and construction Advisory Circular 150/5390-2D that provides largely voluntary guidance to the rotorcraft community. This new AC supersedes previously issued guidance from 2012. The U.S. aviation regulator notes that “the standards and guidelines contained in this AC are practices the FAA recommends for establishing an acceptable level of safety, performance, and operation for heliports.”

However, significantly, the document does not cover eVTOL aircraft operations or the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector generally. Rather, the FAA notes that it is “developing guidance for vertiports that would be intended for VTOL and/or unmanned aircraft. Until that guidance is published, entities developing operating sites for new aircraft entrants are encouraged to work with the FAA Office of Airports and Flight Standards on applicable design, operational, and safety criteria tailored to the performance of aircraft which intend to operate at those facilities.”

Back in September, the FAA did release standards for vertiport design in its Engineering Brief No. 105, Vertiport Design document. This followed public feedback from the draft guidance issued earlier in 2022, including discussions from the virtual Industry Day on March 29. In the engineering brief, the agency added that the guidance is interim and would be updated as more real-world data on eVTOL aircraft operations become available.

In November, Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority opened a public consultation on its guidelines for vertiport design, construction and operation. Also last year, Europe's EASA ai safety agency released its initial guidance on vertiport design.

Provisions of the AC are only mandatory if certain federally-funded programs are used to fund the heliports. Those programs include federal grant assistance programs, including but not limited to the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Airport Grants program or projects funded by the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program. The AC has no applicability under Part 139 airport certification due to an exemption for heliport operators per FAR 139.1(c)(5). The FAA adds, “Other federal agencies, states, or other authorities having jurisdiction over the construction of heliports not funded with AIP, CARES Act, or PFC funds have discretion in establishing the extent to which these standards apply.” 

Principal changes contained in the new AC include a new organizational structure of the material contained therein covering general aviation, transport, and hospital heliports; heliport gradients and pavement design; taxiways, taxi routes, and parking; markings and lighting; site safety elements; pre-designated emergency landing areas; and perimeter lighting for VFR operations. New dimensional, layout, and offset requirements also are included, as is a “heliport evaluation process flow chart.”