The FAA Is Delaying United’s And American’s Electric Air Taxis By Years

Last year United Airlines placed an order for 15 supersonic jets from Boom Technology with an option for 35 more that we could see flying sometime in the 2030s.

United, along with Mesa Airlines, also ordered 200 electric air taxis from Archer Aviation. These vertical takeoff and landing planes, flying up to 150 miles per hour for up to 60 miles, were promised as a way to commute from downtown to United’s hub by 2026. The estimated cost for the trip from Manhattan to JFK by air would be about $50.

Meanwhile American Airlines followed up that news with a ‘pre-order’ of 250 aircraft from Vertical Aerospace. They also took options on 100 more planes that promise they “can carry four passengers and a pilot, and fly at speeds up to 200 mph over a range of over 100 miles” to be flying “as early as 2024.” Virgin Atlantic also placed a Vertical Aerospace ‘pre-order’ as that time as well.


Credit: Archer Aviation

New aircraft are coming, but they’re farther off than they’ve been promised. And electric air taxis just got even farther off still, thanks to the U.S. federal government. In fact these planes are looking at delays of years. Some manufacturers may not have the financing to get through certification in the current market environment.

Transportation researcher Bob Poole writes,

Both developers of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOLs) aircraft and potential operators were shocked at the end of May when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shifted gears on how these new air vehicles are going to be certified.

…Until now, just about everyone in the emerging eVTOL industry assumed that type certificates were to be handled under Part 23, the same regulation used to certify conventional commercial airliners. FAA would have attached special conditions to the Part 23 regs to account for the ability of eVTOLs to take off and land vertically. Instead, FAA has decided to define these new aircraft as “powered lift” vehicles to be certified under Part 21.17(b) special class rules.

…FAA’s Flight Standards division has wanted to go with the “powered lift” categorization because of its concerns that typical pilots would need specialized training to fly eVTOLs…[but] there are no existing airworthiness standards under Part 21.17(b), so those will have to be created before any powered-lift aircraft can receive a type certificate.

The FAA is going to start from scratch with certification standards. Meanwhile an entirely separate process – the more conventional one – will be used in Europe. On the one hand, the U.S. is saying that European safety regulators can’t be trusted (an odd thing after various Boeing debacles). While on the other hand pursuing two completely distinct processes presents its own challenges for manufacturers, even if the European one (that “eVTOLs are aircraft with various special conditions, rather than an entirely new category”) is more familiar.

Certification is going to take years. Under current FAA plans the U.S. won’t see evTOLs in 2024 or probably even 2026.

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