Washington Report, Mar-Apr 2023
FAA Makes Progress on Powered-Lift Certification
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made progress towards implementing a framework for certification and operation of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and civil tiltrotor aircraft. Last May, the agency confirmed that it was requiring all eVTOL aircraft to use the Section 21.17(b) process for airworthiness certification (see “Commentary: FAA Changes Course on eVTOL Certification,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022).
On Feb. 7, Acting Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety David H. Boulter testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on a hearing on aviation safety. He highlighted that the agency is working on the Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) for the integration of powered-lift aircraft into the national airspace system. This rule would enable a path forward for qualifying pilots as well as determining which operating rules apply to powered-lift aircraft. The SFAR is expected this summer and will be a key enabling document to allow advanced air mobility (AAM) operations.
On Nov. 8, the FAA published the proposed airworthiness criteria (G-1) for the Joby S4. This was followed by the publication of the G-1 for Archer’s Midnight eVTOL on Dec. 20. Joby announced on Feb. 9 that it had completed the second stage of the type certification process with the FAA — the means of compliance (G-2) — where the company identifies the ways it will demonstrate it has met the regulatory intent of the safety rules.
FAA Reauthorization Looms
The deadline for Congress to reauthorize the spending and operating authority of the FAA is mere months away. Congress has until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, to sign a reauthorization package for the agency, which is typically reauthorized every five years. The upcoming reauthorization bill will have significant implications for the future of AAM. Last fall, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the inclusion of uncrewed aircraft and AAM platforms in the FAA reauthorization bill. “The last FAA Reauthorization Act helped pave the way for expanded drone use,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) in a statement at the hearing. “I hope next year’s bill will do the same for AAM.”
Congress Authorizes $25M for AAM Infrastructure
On Dec. 29, President Biden signed into law spending legislation that includes funding for the development of infrastructure to support AAM operations. Under Section 101 of the omnibus 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress directed the FAA to establish a grant program to assist with the development for the infrastructure required to facilitate AAM operations. Congress authorized the FAA to allocate $12.5M for each of the fiscal years of 2023 and 2024. Prior to its inclusion in the omnibus bill, the section was an independent piece of legislation known as the Advanced Air Mobility Infrastructure Modernization (AAIM) Act. The AAIM Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Rick Larson (D-WA), passed the House in June 2022 (see “Washington Report,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2022).
Proposal to Create AAM Office Within FAA
On Jan. 9, Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ) introduced legislation that would create an office dedicated to AAM within the FAA. The bill, known as H.R.220, would redesignate the Office of NextGen as the Office of Advanced Aviation and direct the Secretary of Transportation to appoint an Associate Administrator for Advanced Aviation to head the office. The FAA established the Office of NextGen in 2008 to coordinate the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System, the FAA’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure program that is expected to be fully implemented by 2030. Should the legislation pass (as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act), the new office would be responsible for managing the integration of a variety of aviation technologies and platforms, ranging from drones and counter-drone systems to electric- and hydrogen-powered aircraft, among others. The proposed bill would relocate the office in the FAA’s organizational structure, making it one of the primary offices in the department and akin to those dedicated to air traffic, airports and aviation safety. It would also rename the FAA’s center in New Jersey to the William J. Hughes Technical Center for Advanced Aviation (emphasis added) and add additional responsibilities to its purview.
FAA and Korea Partner on AAM
The FAA announced on Jan. 9 that it will work with the Korea Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA) on future AAM aircraft development and operations. The two countries agreed to collaborate on AAM projects and share information. The announcement follows similar agreements with the aviation safety agencies of Japan and the UK, among others. “Collaborating with our international partners on safely integrating these new technologies will create more efficient, sustainable and equitable transportation options,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen in a statement.