Aircraft Technology, Integration and Operations

Post-pandemic comeback and breakthroughs for electric flight

The General Aviation Technical Committee fosters research and development related to general aviation technologies and systems and serves as an advocate for general aviation awareness.

In May, FAA released its Air Traffic by the Numbers with updated data for 2021. The covid-19 pandemic continued to suppress the general aviation community, but there were signs of improvement. In 2020, there were 204,100 active general aviation aircraft across the United States. In 2021, active pilot certificates increased by 4.2% in 2021 to 720,603; drone pilot certificates increased by 23.4% to 254,587. There are 5,184 public-use airports and 14,539 private-use airports across the country. General aviation is the manufacturing and operation of aircraft that have been issued an airworthiness certificate by the FAA — other than aircraft used for scheduled commercial air service or operated by the military — and includes on-demand Federal Aviation Regulations Part 135 operations.

In May, Montreal-based Bombardier introduced its Global 8000. Based on the design of the company’s Global 7500, the 8000 is slated to be “the fastest business jet in the skies,” Bombardier’s announcement reads. A demonstration flight in May 2021 of a Global 7500 flight test vehicle, accompanied by a NASA F/A-18 chase aircraft, reached speeds of Mach 1.015, enabling the Global 8000’s max speed of Mach 0.94. The Global 8000 is expected to begin passenger flights in 2025.

Gulfstream completed the first flight of a G800 business jet in June at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia. Gulfstream is anticipating customer deliveries of the G800 to begin in 2023.

The Cessna SkyCourier twin utility turboprop earned FAA type certification in March. Designed and produced by Textron Aviation of Kansas, the Cessna SkyCourier is a high-wing aircraft that features a large door and a flat floor cabin; the freighter version can hold up to three LD3 shipping containers with 2,722 kilograms of payload capability. The first production unit was rolled out this year at the company’s manufacturing facility in Wichita.

In January, FlightSafety International purchased Frasca International, a family-owned flight simulator company based in Urbana, Illinois. In April, Textron completed acquisition of Slovenia-based Pipistrel, which developed the Velis Electro, the first electric-powered aircraft to receive full type certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in 2020.

Electric propulsion continued to make inroads into the mainstream general aviation market. In April, Austria-based Diamond Aircraft and France-based Safran announced a cooperative agreement to equip Diamond’s certified DA40 light aircraft with Safran’s ENGINeUSTM electric smart motor. The certification of the electric motor is planned for mid-2023. Diamond is targeting the end of 2023 or early 2024 for basic EASA certification of the electrified DA40.

Tier 1 Engineering, based in California, performed the first flight of a Robinson R44 helicopter with a magniX electric propulsion unit. The helicopter flew in June for over three minutes at Los Alamitos Army Airfield in California. In October, the helicopter completed a 20-minute flight from Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport to Palm Springs International Airport.

In February, FAA announced an initiative to work toward the elimination of leaded aviation fuel by 2030 without negatively impacting the existing general aviation community. The initiative supports the necessary infrastructure, technology innovation and regulations and policies to support the transition to unleaded fuel.

In May, FAA made a major policy shift in the approach to certifying in-development electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles. The industry expectation for building winged eVTOL aircraft was that Part 23, “Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Airplanes,” was applicable in accordance with FAR Part 21.17(a). FAA now plans to certify these winged eVTOL under an updated version of the “powered-lift” category. Aircraft builders will use 21.17(b) which requires a combination of existing airplane, rotorcraft, engine and propeller standards that FAA and designers will agree upon.  

Post-pandemic comeback and breakthroughs for electric flight