Developers of electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft have long touted their fly-by-wire machines as being much easier to pilot than conventional airplanes and helicopters. With the release of its proposed Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) for powered-lift pilot certification and operations, the Federal Aviation Administration has signaled that it’s not yet convinced.
The SFAR became necessary when the FAA last yearshifted course from its original plan to certify winged eVTOLs as Part 23 small airplanes, instead choosing to certify them as powered-lift aircraft under a special class process. At the time, the FAA said the change was necessary in order to develop appropriate guidance for training pilots of powered-lift aircraft, “which take off in helicopter mode, transition into airplane mode for flying, and then transition back to helicopter mode for landing.”
With the public release of its proposed SFAR on June 7, the FAA has confirmed that it expects commercial pilots of winged eVTOLs carrying passengers for hire to hold a powered-lift category and instrument rating, in addition to a type rating for each powered-lift model they fly, even while already holding airplane or helicopter ratings. Moreover, the FAA is proposing only a modest amount of credit for powered-lift simulator time, meaning most of the training will have to take place in the real aircraft.
That presents a significant challenge for the company the FAA says is on track to certify its eVTOL first, Joby Aviation, along withfast follower Archer Aviation. Both of them have designed their weight-sensitive electric aircraft with only a single pilot seat and no place for an instructor, under the assumption that the ease of control and availability of advanced flight simulators will enable them to adequately prep pilots for solo flight.
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