Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft is a new concept of urban air mobility that enhances connectivity in an innovative way – but not without challenges. The safety challenges VTOL pose require an appropriate regulatory framework. EASA is working closely with aviation stakeholders to facilitate this new technology and the new business models it brings by putting in place the necessary certification requirements. David Solar and Volker Arnsmeier report on EASA’s latest regulatory work on VTOL.
Urban air mobility has seen a tremendous evolution in recent years with the emergence of aerial vehicles like vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. VTOL will transform air travel into a more customisable and environmentally-friendly reality. Like any other air service, VTOL need to be regulated in order to operate safely in Europe. EASA is developing the necessary regulatory framework to ensure the safe integration of VTOL as well as fair competition on the European market and more clarity for manufacturers. Here is an overview of where we stand from a regulatory perspective.
Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) operations and required vertiports
When looking at current helicopter and airplane flights, for mere visual flight rules (VFR) operations, the competence existed primarily at national level. With the new concepts offered by, for instance, electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) and drones in the frame of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), it is of common interest to have a harmonised approach at EU level to establish technical requirements for vertiports and address these in cooperation with our national partners. This harmonisation is particularly important for small and medium VTOL manufacturers who are also dependent on other local and national actors to make the investment in vertiports, besides its effect of fostering the VTOL technology. Thus,
if requirements are harmonised these manufacturers should have easier access to all EU markets.
The aforementioned common European approach to vertiports is established in what is known as the “Drone programme”, through the on-going rulemaking task (RMT.0230) and its related sub-group. EASA has numerous stakeholders in this group to represent their different interests and concerns.
Future VTOL operations evolution
On one hand, EASA expects VTOL operations to make use of existing runways and heliports. On the other hand, the focus of these aircraft – and their business case – will be put on a vast number of future dedicated vertiports. At this point, vertiport requirements do not yet exist.
Furthermore, the current legal scope in European regulations usually makes reference to ‘helicopters’. So, from an airworthiness perspective, it was intentionally decided to classify the new entrants as a Special Class to provide them with an adequate set of regulations, taking into account their expected features and potential evolution.
For VTOL, the characteristics of the landing location are being identified, irrespective of whether it is located within an aerodrome or at a remote location. Considering that in some phases these VTOL might have similar characteristics with rotorcraft, current heliports – apart from runways – could be used as long as the VTOL dimensions and its performance meet the design characteristics of the heliport.
A detailed assessment of the EASA aerodromes and heliports rules should ensure that specifications can accommodate the operation of VTOL and, if necessary, develop new elements, in particular when these vertiports or landing sites are located in an urban environment.
Moreover, such vertiports might also allow for take-off and landings of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) of various sizes. This can enable cargo-UAS operations as well as to prepare the ground for operation of automated or autonomous VTOL in the future.
While many manufacturers consider that eVTOL operation anticipates IFR capabilities in the long term, such operations are expected to be limited to VFR conditions, at least for the initial launch. With growing procedures such as GNSS based, like PinS (Point in Space procedure used by helicopter pilots), future vertiports might be converted from VFR to IFR operation over the years.
This gradual approach will also enable the timeline foreseen for the publication of the Note of Proposed Amendment (NPA) publication of RMT.0230 late 2020 and, at the same time, reassure the different stakeholders in this new domain.
David Solar is Head of Vertical Take-Off & Landing (VTOL) Department at EASA.
Volker Arnsmeier is Section Manager eVTOL & New Concepts at EASA.