The Air Current - Elan Head and Jon Ostrower

The Federal Aviation Administration is dramatically revising its approach to certifying electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, injecting new uncertainty into the certification programs of the United States’ leading eVTOL developers.

Although the shift comes as the FAA has been broadly rebalancing its relations with industry since the 737 Max crashes exposed its insufficient oversight of Boeing’s certification programs, this recent move appears more geared toward bureaucracy than safety. Specifically, it is driven by a decision to establish operational rules for eVTOLs as “powered-lift” aircraft — a definition that was originally introduced into federal regulations to cover conventionally powered tiltrotors like the Leonardo AW609, in development for the last two decades.

Until now, developers of winged eVTOL aircraft including Joby Aviation, Archer and Beta Technologies have been proceeding on the assumption that their aircraft would be certified under the FAA’s overhaul of small airplane certification rules that took effect in 2017. 

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