EASA Proposes New Regulatory Framework for Air Taxi Operations

EASA published a Notice of Proposed Amendment to recommend a comprehensive new regulatory framework for urban air mobility, including uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. (Photo: EASA)

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed a comprehensive new regulatory framework for operating air taxis in cities. Manufacturers of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft have worked with EASA in developing regulations since 2019, a representative from EASA told Avionics. The proposed rules are open for public consultation until October 1. Following any necessary revisions, the European Commission will review EASA’s regulatory framework in 2023 before making a decision.

EASA published the Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) on June 30, including recommendations for creating new amendments as well as updating existing regulations in the EU. Key areas of focus in the NPA are airworthiness certification for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS), and operational requirements for crewed VTOL aircraft.

The NPA outlines some specific objectives, including ensuring a high level of safety for UAS and VTOL operations; establishing an efficient regulatory framework that allows for innovation and developments in the UAS market; and eliminating any inconsistencies in the regulations across the member states of the EU.

EASA also introduced concepts for standardizing the definitions of urban air mobility (UAM) and for VTOL-capable aircraft. The agency will regulate UAS and VTOL operations not only within urban environments, it states, but also those operations where the aircraft is traveling in or out of an urban environment. EASA’s definition of VTOL-capable aircraft is “a power-driven, heavier-than-air aircraft, other than aeroplane or rotorcraft, capable of performing vertical take-off and landing by means of lift or thrust units used to provide lift during take-off and landing,” according to the NPA.

The document explains that this proposed definition of VTOL aircraft also necessitates limiting the definition of “helicopter” as follows: “heavier-than-air aircraft supported in flight chiefly by the reactions of the air on up to two power-driven rotors on substantially vertical axes.” Helicopters should be considered a subcategory of rotorcraft. Aircraft configured with more than two power-driven rotors must be initially classified as VTOL-capable, according to EASA. 

EASA lays out tasks to ensure continuing airworthiness of uncrewed aircraft, including pre-flight inspections of the aircraft, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, compliance with any airworthiness directive issued by the agency that is applicable, and maintenance check flights as needed. The UAS maintenance program will undergo a review at least every year to evaluate its effectiveness.

The NPA recommends requirements for VTOL operations with a single pilot under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or at night. This includes pilot training related to engine management and emergency handling as well as air traffic control (ATC) communication, autopilot management (when applicable), and using simplified in-flight documentation. EASA also proposes that the pilot should have 25 hours of total IFR flight experience and 25 hours of experience flying a VTOL aircraft as a single pilot.

Because aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing will introduce novel technologies, and will operate differently than conventional aircraft, the NPA states that there needs to be a requirement for installing recorders as part of the airworthiness requirements for VTOL aircraft. EASA suggests in its proposed regulations that some data can be transmitted and recorded remotely. According to the representative from EASA, “This is a provision established through the requirement of Special Condition VTOL.2555(f) that would apply in case the VTOL aircraft would be remotely controlled by means of a command unit. The proposed operational rules apply only to VTOL with a pilot on board.”

Last year, EASA published a study on societal acceptance of urban air mobility operations in Europe. The study took into account survey responses from 4,000 citizens and 40 qualitative interviews. Although implementing VTOL operations for emergency medical services is one of the most accepted applications for these types of aircraft, one challenge is ensuring the availability of infrastructure such as vertiports, according to the spokesperson from EASA. They added that battery management and noise are two other potential concerns, although VTOL aircraft will have lower noise levels than helicopters.

A few months ago, EASA released guidance regarding the design of vertiports (EASA’s original report can be viewed here). The NPA that was just published also includes recommendations surrounding regulation of infrastructure like vertiports. When establishing a vertiport within the airside of an aerodrome, EASA suggests that a wake-turbulence analysis is needed in order to evaluate risks with conventional manned aircraft flying near the aerodrome. “We will be conducting studies [involving] all the relevant stakeholders such as VTOL manufacturers, ANSP, airport operators and EUROCONTROL as well as the Member States,” the representative shared. “We will be using methods equivalent to the one we have used for establishing the EU RECAT after the safety assessment was performed.”

“Predetermined VFR VTOL routes should be established to prevent conflicting situations (e.g. crossing, head-on or overtaking situation).” – EASA’s proposed regulations for urban air mobility operations (Photo: EASA)

EASA proposes measures for mitigating the risk if there is a large number of VTOL aircraft operations and ATC is not able to safely manage the additional amount of traffic. One recommendation is to assign VTOL aircraft in uncontrolled airspace to predetermined VFR (Visual Flight Rules) routes.

The representative from EASA explained that “in order to be able to allow regular VFR VTOL operations between vertiport pairs, there is a need to establish a network of those VFR routes based on the assessment performed by the operator.” This would follow consideration of aspects such as “the airspace traffic, complexity, their aircraft endurance, availability of alternate vertiports and operation sites for the case of contingency and/or emergencies as well as other aspects such as the existence of other VTOL operations utilizing the same vertiports, the implementation of U-space, the existence of environmental protected areas and the acceptable noise levels.”

Before beginning operations, EASA’s spokesperson noted, the individual national or local authorities from within EASA member-nations would need to approve the establishment of a network of VFR routes that takes into account the previously mentioned aspects.

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