FAA’s proposed rule on powered lift helps clarify path toward certification

Agency outlines plan to add powered lift to definitions of air carrier operations

A newly proposed FAA rule has reduced but not eliminated the uncertainty about the certification path and timeline for companies developing electric air taxis that would blend the utility of vertical lift with the speed and efficiency of winged flight.

With these companies and their investors racing to carry passengers as early as 2025, FAA in May injected uncertainty into their business plans when it announced that such aircraft would be treated not as airplanes but as powered-lift designs, the term for aircraft such as the Bell Boeing V-22 tiltrotor and the AW609 made by Italy-based Leonardo, neither of which is certified by FAA for commercial flight.

The 98-page document that FAA published on Nov. 21 marks “an important step toward making commercial air taxi operations a reality,” FAA said in a prepared statement.

The proposed rule would add “powered-lift” to the agency’s list of regulated aircraft for the purposes of certifying operations, such as passenger transport, cargo flights and charter services.

“This is an indication FAA has prioritized the rulemaking necessary to enable the category of powered lift to enter into service,” said Walter Desrosier, vice president of engineering and maintenance at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

California-based Joby Aviation, one of those vying to fly customers starting in 2025, struck an upbeat tone: “By adding the category of vertical-lift aircraft to the existing regulatory framework for commercial aircraft operations, the FAA continues to demonstrate U.S. leadership toward safely bringing revolutionary technologies to market,” Joby said in a prepared statement.

Next, the industry is waiting for further clarification on powered-lift type certification for the aircraft themselves, Desrosier said.

“The big request, the need for industry, is that a final Special Federal Aviation Regulation on powered-lift aircraft has to be published by the end of 2024 in order to align with the expected entry into service of these aircraft by 2025,” he said.

FAA’s current air carrier definitions only refer to “airplanes” and “rotorcraft,” and the agency says that it must add “powered lift” to those definitions “to enable air carrier operations with powered-lift.”

FAA seeks feedback on the proposed definitions rule and intends to publish a final rule “in summer 2023,” according to the FAA statement.

Many air taxis under development by companies such as Archer Aviation and Joby are electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) designs that mix the characteristics of helicopters and airplanes.

FAA two weeks ago published for the first time an airworthiness standard for certification of a powered-lift aircraft for Joby.

FAA’s proposed rule on powered lift helps clarify path toward certification