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Washington Report, Jul-Aug 2023
  • 05 Jul 2023 02:39 PM
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Washington Report, Jul-Aug 2023


New Leaders at FAA Expected
The Biden administration is evaluating candidates to serve as Administrator of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to a May 1 report in Axios, the administration views Mike Whitaker as a frontrunner to lead the agency. Whitaker, currently the Chief Operating Officer at electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft developer Supernal, previously served as Deputy Administrator of the FAA in the Obama administration. The Biden administration’s previous nominee, Phil Washington, withdrew from consideration in March after the Senate stalled for months in offering him a confirmation hearing amid criticism from Republicans (see “Washington Report,” Vertiflite, May/June 2023).

The FAA has lacked a Senate-confirmed leader since March 2022, when Trump-appointee Steve Dickson resigned. The current Acting Administrator of the FAA, Billy Nolen, announced in late April that he planned to leave the agency in June. The Air Current broke the news on May 25 that Nolen was planning to join Archer, which the company confirmed on June 13.

The Biden administration is planning to appoint Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg as the next interim leader of the FAA. With a career in public service spanning more than 25 years, Trottenberg previously served as New York City’s Transportation Commissioner and in the Obama administration as the Assistant Secretary and Under Secretary for Policy at the US Department of Transportation. On June 13, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) issued a call for the President to immediately nominate a permanent administrator with “substantial aviation experience.”

On May 17, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a request for information (RFI) on topics related to advanced air mobility (AAM). The DOT’s AAM Interagency Working Group (IWG) issued the document, which requests information from industry and the public on topics such as the likely future use cases, environmental impacts and job prospects of the AAM industry. The DOT requested that respondents submit comments by July 17, 2023.

The DOT established the AAM IWG after President Biden signed into law the AAM Coordination and Leadership Act in October 2022; it is comprised of 22 members from federal departments and agencies. In a press release, the AAM IWG said it intends to engage the public and stakeholders in the coming months as it seeks to develop and deliver the AAM National Strategy by 2024, another of the requirements of the AAM legislation.

Draft Legislation Promotes AAM
The US Congress introduced several pieces of draft legislation aimed at promoting AAM solutions and technologies. On May 22, Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK) introduced H.R. 3559, the FAA Research and Development Act of 2023. The draft legislation directs the FAA to undertake a variety of research activities, including several devoted to aviation fuel and power. Under Section 203 of H.R. 3559, the FAA would be required to develop a strategy to address the introduction of and transition to hydrogen-based fuels in aviation. The bill is under consideration by multiple House committees.

On May 24, the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology passed H.R. 3560, the National Drone and Advanced Air Mobility Research and Development Act, on a bipartisan basis. The draft legislation, a sprawling bill covering a variety of topics related to AAM, would fund national research centers, programs and research activities dedicated to drones and AAM technologies. Rep. Lucas, the Chair of the Committee, introduced this bill as well, which is also under consideration by other House committees.

FAA Releases Proposed Powered-Lift SFAR
On June 7, the FAA released its proposed Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) on “Integration of Powered-Lift: Pilot Certification and Operations; Miscellaneous Amendments Related to Rotorcraft and Airplanes.” These rules would apply for eVTOL and other aircraft that take off and land like a helicopter but fly on wing lift. The FAA published its 529-page proposal, which it says conforms to International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements, in the Federal Register on June 14, allowing public comment on the document for 60 days, by Aug. 14, 2023.

Some industry observers and participants have been highly critical of some aspects of the proposed SFAR, as it would require training on a dual-control powered-lift aircraft in order to gain sufficient hours to train on the specific powered-lift aircraft. In a June 8 article entitled, “Newly Proposed FAA Rules Could Create eVTOL Pilot Training Hurdle,” The Air Current wrote that the FAA “expects commercial pilots of winged eVTOLs carrying passengers for hire to hold a powered-lift category and instrument rating, in addition to a type rating for each powered lift model they fly, even while already holding airplane or helicopter ratings. Moreover, the FAA is proposing only a modest amount of credit for powered-lift simulator time, meaning most of the training will have to take place in the real aircraft.”

This surprising requirement has again blindsided industry. Just over a year ago the FAA suddenly pivoted to Part 21.17(b) powered-lift certification pathway; the agency had previously indicated for nearly a decade that winged eVTOL aircraft could be certificated as Part 23 “small airplanes” with special conditions (see “Commentary: FAA Changes Course on eVTOL Certification,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022).

Other provisions, such as the requirement for 45 minutes of “fuel reserves” for flying in instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions like airplanes (versus 30-minute reserves for helicopters), are also seen as problematic.

FAA Publishes AW609 Airworthiness Criteria
On June 9, the FAA published its proposed “Airworthiness Criteria: Special Class Airworthiness Criteria for the AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation [AWPC] Model AW609 Powered-Lift.”

The notice in the Federal Register noted the following: “The proposed certification basis also includes new criteria unique to the powered-lift design, designated as Tiltrotor (TR) criteria. Many of these TR criteria consist of modified part 25 or part 29 standards. Some include criteria that combine existing parts 23, 25, and 29 standards, as the maximum weight of the Model AW609 exceeds the weight for normal category rotorcraft and most part 23 category airplanes, but its passenger seating is less than that of a transport category airplane or a transport category rotorcraft.”

What was originally the Bell Boeing BB609 was first unveiled in 1996, and first flight of the Bell/Agusta BA609 was in 2003. After several changes of applicants, Leonardo’s US subsidiary, AgustaWestland Tilt-Rotor Company (now AWPC), applied for a type certificate for the AW609 in February 2012.

Comments to the FAA are due on the 182-page airworthiness criteria within 30 days, by July 10, 2023.

Congress Drafts FAA Reauthorization Bills
On June 9, the US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, a draft of legislation to reauthorize the FAA. The sprawling bipartisan bill would renew the FAA’s operating authority for five additional years, an imperative prior to the Sept. 30 deadline when the agency’s existing mandate is set to expire. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, released its bill on June 8. Amendments were submitted for both bills to obviate the problematic issues with the draft SFAR.

The draft House bill contains multiple provisions relevant to VTOL aircraft, including an entire section devoted to AAM. The legislation would extend an AAM infrastructure pilot grant program, as well as require the FAA to update air traffic policies to account for AAM vehicles. The bill would require the FAA to publish data on helicopter air ambulance operations and find ways to encourage helicopter operators to install crash-resistant fuel systems. It would also require the Comptroller General to study the impacts of helicopter noise on affected communities.

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