UAM PROGRESS: THE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT
The allure of being in the forefront of progress is rapidly drawing entrepreneurs and innovators from beyond aviation in a mad dash towards advanced air mobility services; the consequences of this merger are slowly rearing their heads.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is known to breathe fresh air into every industry, and aerospace is certainly no different. After all, transnational and integrative unions are who we have to thank for the current boom in technological progress, within the field of unmanned aviation and beyond. Whilst a new set of eyes is always welcome, the ramifications of non-aviatory integration into the sector are becoming evident.
A large number of new start-ups that have taken up creating electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircrafts, approach the industry with a rigour, which whilst is well appreciated, does not account for the length of time necessary for traditional aircraft programs generally to take to get to market, due to the highly regulated nature of a sector in which safety has to be paramount.
The aggressive timelines are sowing seeds of doubt, especially considering that the regulatory framework within which aviation operates, has only recently started defining the process for certifying and approving the new aircrafts and unmanned operations. The anticipation of autonomous operations is contributing to an ever-growing and complex regulatory structure.
WITHOUT AUTONOMOUS OPERATIONS IT WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE TO ACHIEVE SUSTAINABLE COMMERCIAL UAV OPERATIONS AND WITHOUT A FULL SET OF WIDELY ACCEPTED INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS, AUTONOMOUS SYSTEMS WILL REMAIN IN LABS AND SIMULATIONS.
However, this uncertainty hasn’t deterred some of the pioneers from seeking to push the regulatory boundaries to accelerate the development process for their new products. For instance, China’s EHang has convinced the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to allow it to begin provisional operations with its 216 Autonomous Aerial Vehicle under a pilot program.
There are now signs that the regulatory landscape could be set to get clearer in 2020, with more detailed regulatory guidance regarding certification standards for eVTOL aircraft flying in the UAM environment expected.
In July 2019, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) led the way with a widely welcomed announcement of a set of regulations for unmanned operations, and aircraft certifications, which is continuously being supplemented. EASA’s U.S. counterpart, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has yet to publish a detailed equivalent to this regulatory structure..
But there is far more to the regulatory equation. In a 2018 report, the Mitre Corporation identified 13 areas that need some sort of regulatory component or consideration to integrate an integrated UAM system into daily life; including eVTOL airworthiness, certifying autonomous flight, air traffic control, detect-and-avoid capability, operating rules, information and communication networks, operational oversight, related ground infrastructure, oversight and enforcement, security, public acceptance, environmental impact, and personnel.
The task at hand is both daunting and complex. It is complicated by increased scrutiny facing global aviation regulators. Lately, leading regulators have stepped up the level of engagement with the emerging eVTOL and UAM industry. However, plenty of work remains to be done and the next couple of years could yet see some twists and turns before clear, harmonised rules are established for every aspect of what it will take to safely operate the new aircraft.
For now, prospective investors, partners, and stakeholders would be well advised to keep a watchful eye on novel regulatory concepts and continue exerting pressure on legislative bodies to develop a safe and secure regulatory framework to bring about the numerous benefits of integrated Urban Air Mobility.