The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), understanding the significant role these eVTOLs are expected to play, is preparing to introduce a legal infrastructure, particularly focusing on pilot training and licensing requirements for these aircraft. A significant milestone in this process was the FAA’s recent proposal outlining the certification and operation of eVTOLs within the Community airspace, opening a 60-day public consultation on the topic.
The development of these guidelines marks an essential step towards materializing the future of flying taxis in the United States, although commercializing this technology is still a few years away.
The Complexity of Licensing: Unique Aircraft Requirements
According to a statement by the Civil Aviation Authority, eVTOLs necessitate unique pilot licensing rules due to their distinct mode of operation. These aircraft take off like helicopters but fly akin to fixed-wing aircraft, two distinct categories demanding different pilot training globally.
Currently, the civil aviation sector lacks any aircraft equivalent to a commercial eVTOL, exacerbating the situation further since, under existing regulations, only individuals experienced in operating both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are allowed to fly such aircraft.
The FAA emphasized the unique “flight and handling characteristics” integrated by different eVTOL manufacturers into their designs. This introduces another layer of complexity: different eVTOL models would likely require pilots to acquire licenses specific to the aircraft model they intend to fly. This could lead to a future where specific pilot licenses would be issued for every type of eVTOL.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that there is, and will likely remain, no restriction on an individual being licensed to operate more than one type of aircraft.
Toward a Simpler Reality: Automation and Specific Flight Parameters
While these complications might seem daunting, the practical scenario is predicted to be much simpler. eVTOLs will operate within highly specific parameters—restricted altitudes and short distances—and would primarily shuttle between urban areas, beaches, and vertiports on ships or oil rigs. The highly automated nature of these aircraft also implies that the licensing requirements may not be as stringent as those for passenger or cargo pilots.
Training the Trainers: The First Generation of eVTOL Pilots
With the eVTOL training system currently in its infancy, the FAA suggests that the initial cadre of eVTOL instructor pilots should be those directly involved in the aircraft’s production. These individuals could also aid in establishing flight schools and training centers.
However, there is a lingering question of long-term planning, given the rapid evolution of eVTOL technology. As the first air taxis are getting ready to service their initial paying passengers, the next generation of pilotless eVTOLs are already on the drawing board. Aircraft titan Boeing is already exploring fully automated eVTOLs, aiming for readiness by 2030. As the first wave of air taxis is anticipated to commence service later this decade, it’s plausible that the blueprint for the subsequent generation of unmanned air taxis will be ready.
In essence, the rapid advancement of eVTOL technology, along with its potential to revolutionize transportation, demands an equally swift adaptation from regulatory bodies. Although it may seem like a significant overhaul in the way we certify and train pilots, the overall process is likely to be less complicated than it initially appears due to the high automation levels of eVTOLs. This innovative mode of transport not only promises a solution to crowded urban commutes but also beckons an era of transport transformation.