FAA adds “controlled emergency landing” requirement for Joby aircraft

Joby says it already had a plan for that

A previous version of this story incorrectly implied that FAA’s airworthiness criteria required the ability to land under a complete loss of propulsion. The FAA language does not specify such a requirement. The article has been updated.

For Joby Aviation to earn a type certificate for its proposed electric air taxis, the company must now show FAA that a pilot can choose a safe landing spot if the aircraft no longer has enough power or thrust to reach its destination, and bring the aircraft down safely — a capability that Joby says was already in its plan.

The additional requirement was published earlier this month in FAA’s final “airworthiness criteria” rule for Joby’s S4 air taxis, each of which will have wings and a V-tail for the cruise phase but take off and land vertically. Specifically, FAA said “Expectations were added for the aircraft to be capable of a controlled emergency landing following any condition where the aircraft can no longer provide the commanded power or thrust required for continued safe flight and landing.”

UPDATE: Joby’s airworthiness criteria seen as providing design flexibility

The move came one month after the National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report on the February 2022 crash of a prototype S4. The agency cited “separation of a propeller blade during expansion flight testing” as the likely cause. The remotely piloted prototype came down in an uninhabited area of Jolon, California. No one was aboard and there were no injuries, but the aircraft was destroyed. Joby has said that the aircraft was purposefully pushed beyond its intended operating conditions. NTSB, in the final report, said the aircraft had intentionally entered a dive at 335 kph from an altitude of 8,900 feet.

I could not confirm whether there is a link between the added emergency requirement and NTSB’s findings. FAA said it “does not comment on ongoing certifications beyond what’s in any public documents.” Joby directed me back to FAA’s document and said, “We’re not aware of any references to the accident.” I did not see a reference to the crash either.

FAA defines a controlled emergency landing as one in which the pilot can “choose the direction and area of touchdown while reasonably protecting occupants from serious injury.” Joby says the S4 is designed to glide on its wing aerodynamically and that the additions to the airworthiness criteria require “no design changes” to its aircraft.

Finalization of the airworthiness criteria was a required step to earn the type certificate, which Joby plans to do in time to start shuttling passengers in 2025. The 92-page document includes a section on “propeller requirements” that requires Joby to “analyze the propeller system to assess the likely consequences of all failures that can reasonably be expected to occur.”

The emergency landing addition, and other less significant changes, “didn’t really change anything, because those were things we planned on doing anyway,” Didier Papadopoulos, Joby’s president for aircraft manufacturing, tells me.

FAA’s issuance of the criteria is the first of its kind for an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and provides certainty to the industry, Papadopoulos says.

“We have something on paper signed, we have clarity. This is the path forward for now. Years of hard work that we’ve put into this have paid off, and we don’t expect to see a lot of changes moving forward,” he adds.

“I think we and the FAA recognize this is a unique opportunity, that we’re working together to introduce a new mode of transportation,” Papadopoulos says. “FAA is leaning in to support us and the rest of the industry, I’d say, to sort of develop a roadmap toward certification.”

He described FAA activity with the company in terms of developing a novel aircraft type: “There’s a weekly call with the FAA. There’s multiple technical visits happening all the time.
The battery team is going to be here to look at our progress on the battery soon, and that’s how it needs to be,” he says.

Papadopoulos previously was vice president of aviation systems, programs and business development for global navigation technology company Garmin, where he saw “what it takes to get avionics systems certified” by FAA for commercial use, he says.

“You want the regulators to be with you, you want them to understand what they’re regulating, you want them to see it. If they fast-track things and sign off on things without that level of engagement, it would not produce as safe an outcome,” he says.

He says Joby is leading the way globally for electrification of passenger aircraft and advanced air mobility. He’s aware that regulators in China, Europe and Canada — among other regions — also are working with electric air taxi developers.

“We feel that continuing to work with FAA is ultimately going to pay off and enable us to deploy not only here but in the rest of the world,” Papadopoulos says.

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FAA adds “controlled emergency landing” requirement for Joby aircraft