The UK’s head of aviation regulation has called for a global standard for flying taxis. He predicted that air travel is on the verge of a new revolution.
Sir Stephen Hillier of the Civil Aviation Authority said that the travel industry was at an “inflection” point and needed global cooperation before the adoption by electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft designed to transport passengers on short journeys.
His comments follow UK’s struggle to deal with conventional passenger jets in a summer of delays, compounded by a failure of the air traffic control system during the August bank holiday. This caused hundreds of aircraft to be grounded and thousands of passengers to be delayed.
The CAA launched a investigation into the outage. Hillier stated that the investigation would examine the “systemic” issues raised by the failure of the operator, National Air Traffic Services. It will also look at the resilience of the air traffic control system and the modernisation in UK airspace.
He added that it is right to prepare for new technologies which will force UK’s already outdated airspace to adjust to new forms air travel.
The lessons [of the Nats’ failure] . . “This will inform our future plans for modernising the aerospace industry,” he added. Investors around the world have committed billions of dollars to the dream of “urban air mobility” but it has taken longer than expected for flying taxis to become a reality, with companies struggling to overcome technical and operational challenges.
The next 18-months will be crucial for the industry, as many start-ups speed up their testing programmes in order to receive certification for their vehicles as soon as next year. Germany’s Volocopter hopes to be the first commercial helicopter to fly in Europe by next summer in time for the Paris Olympics.
Hillier dismissed concerns raised by some in the aviation sector that the UK was falling behind.
He said that the CAA wanted to create a regulatory framework that “encourages and enables innovation” in order to help the UK take advantage of the “market opportunities” created by the arrival of flying cars. Analysts predict that by 2040, the global market for eVTOLs will be worth $1tn.
Hillier stated that regulators must work together in order to avoid “divergent regulations” that “restrict operators’ opportunities”. Hillier said regulators need to work together so there is no “divergent regulation” which would “restrict the opportunities for operators”.
Only the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has published technical specifications specifically for eVTOLs that offer commercial services to passengers. The standards are based on large commercial jetliners and assume high flight volumes in urban areas. This means that there is only one chance of a catastrophic failure per 1 billion flight hours.
The UK has adopted similar certification standards.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has not yet specified its safety goals. FAA and EASA are “working towards an equivalent level of security”, according to the FAA. The FAA said that it and EASA “are working towards an equivalent level of safety”.
Some industry executives are concerned that there may be divergent regulatory standards, which could affect their ability to operate or sell their aircraft in other regions.
Trevor Woods is the director of regulatory affairs for Vertical Aerospace in Bristol, a company that has just launched a flying taxi. He said that companies are seeking “standardised” regulations. He said that the gap between different regulatory approaches is already narrowing as certification requirements are becoming clearer.
Hillier stated that he expects the new aircraft will become “widespread”. This is in spite of the technical challenges in developing them, and the difficulties in regulating, building infrastructure, and gaining the public’s acceptance.
If we look up at the sky right now, it is mostly empty. We will have the technology to use that environment much more than in the past, he said.