Producing aircraft of any kind is not a simple matter. We have seen VTOL manufacturers demonstrate impressive flights tests with aircraft hovering off of the ground, and perhaps maneuvering in flight. Although a layperson could conclude that mass production must be around the corner, the process for producing aircraft is heavily regulated in most nations. And VTOL production will be no exception.
Nevertheless, in recent years, VTOL manufacturers have seen marked progress towards approval of their aircraft designs through "type certification" achievements. This growth has appeared exponential in recent months, with type certification milestones issued to a number of manufacturers by regulators across the globe. Companies have publicly shared these milestones, which, in the past several weeks alone, have included:
- UK CAA's issuance of a type certification prerequisite (design organizational approval) to an eVTOL manufacturer
- FAA flight testing of a powered lift aircraft, in a step towards type certification (this "powered lift" aircraft will be certified under the same regulatory pathway as many VTOLs)
- A Canadian-based manufacturer announced an agreement with Transport Canada to coordinate on applicable regulations for type certification.
One may wonder the significance of “type certification” for VTOL manufacturers. In essence, a regulatory body may issue a type certification when it deems that a manufacturer’s type of aircraft or component meets applicable regulations. Generally, now the manufacturer is (almost) ready to produce identical aircraft or components without having to demonstrate regulatory compliance for each reproduced piece. Without such a certification, a manufacturer would have to submit for review every single aircraft or component it produces before making it available for purchase. So, with a type certificate, processing time from manufacturer to “store shelf” is significantly reduced.
But the receipt of a type certificate alone does not result in production readiness. Often, a “production certificate” is also needed, which requires the production facility to undergo an audit where it will need to demonstrate the quality of its facilities, data processing guarantees, and many other measures. The good news for the VTOL industry is that manufacturer progress has been demonstrated on this front as well. For example, one manufacturer announced last week the opening of an eVTOL production facility in Europe. This manufacturer holds an EASA-compliant production organization approval, which, according to the manufacturer, means they now have the certification and capacity to produce aircraft.
Myriad other processes, such as the need for an airworthiness certificate, will also be applicable before VTOL can take to the sky. Great advancements are being made in VTOL readiness, including regulators' careful examination of risk and safety to people and passengers. Indeed, regulators are still determining many applicable regulations that will be needed for VTOL production and operations. But the milestones mentioned above demonstrate mutual agreement between manufacturers and regulators about the yet-to-be-realized benefits of this innovative era in aviation.