Finally, after years of waiting, it is being reported in the October 2023 issue of the monthly trade magazine Avionics News, that the FAA has finally released an NPRM containing the proposed rules for the UAV e VTOL, you know, Powered Lift aerial vehicles. This happened last June. And it also establishes a new FAR for Powered-Lift, FAR 194, Special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 120; Powered Lift: Pilot Certification and Training; Operations Requirements and revises other regulations.
According to Avionics News, most of the rulemaking effort focuses on operational rules and airman qualifications. This is in line with ICAO (pronounced ‘eye kay oh’), the International Civil Aviation Organization that sets the international standard for aircraft standards and guidance. However, industry sources say that the proposal falls short of a workable solution for eVTOL operators.
About 1 ½ years ago, the FAA changed its position on eVTOL aircraft and determined that they would be considered as ‘powered-lift’ and as a result would be certified under FAR Part 21.17(b), as a “special-class” of aircraft. This led to more changes and challenges dealing with certification of airman and aircraft.
Because powered-lift is such a radically different design, there are few rules that address this category of aircraft. There are currently no civilian powered-lift aircraft in use.
It is interesting because much of the rule making treats powered-lift aircraft like they are helicopters, except for times when aircraft rules seem more appropriate. This comes not from the FAA but instead from the ICAO. This is an interesting conundrum. Powered lift aircraft operate in both airplane and helicopter categories. When operating as a helicopter, use helicopter rules, and when operating like an airplane, then use airplane rules.
So, the jury is still out on the development of eVTOL, powered lift aircraft. Stay tuned for more on the evolution of these aircraft, and how they will operate in the National Airspace System (NAS).