Vertiport regulations and standards: Creating the rules framework for UAM infrastructure

National and international aviation rules and industry standards must be changed rapidly to enable the introduction of new VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft and associated ground infrastructure.  Skyports regulatory lead Simon Whalley looks at how the regulatory framework for infrastructure in Urban Air Mobility (UAM) is developing to support the growth of the industry.

Vertiports – the take-off and landing areas for VTOL aircraft to support the transportation of passengers and cargo – will underpin UAM, providing a safe and secure area for air taxi operators and the people using them.  Understandably, industry and public attention is largely focused on the exciting developments in vehicle technology as they imagine travelling in one of these aircraft in the not too distant future; however, the ground infrastructure and support services are crucial enablers of the UAM revolution.

Inside the world’s first full scale passenger air taxi vertiport prototype – the VoloPort – on show in Singapore (Source: Skyports/Volocopter/Nikolai Kazakov)

The role of regulation

The first generation of VTOL aircraft require the development of major new engineering and technology solutions that are proven to be safe for passengers and the city below.  The same goes for the ground infrastructure.  As important as the engineering and technological innovation is the creation of new regulations and standards to provide public confidence in these new solutions.

Regulation tends to lag industrial and technological advancement, often requiring frantic effort to control its application post-development.  However, the regulation and standards framework can be a major enabler of the rapid introduction of UAM if it keeps up with the pace of innovation or, even better, if it can anticipate how the technology will progress and help shape that progression.

Biometric passenger check in facilities expected to be provided in vertiports (Source: (Source: Skyports/Volocopter/Nikolai Kazakov)

 

Making the most of existing rules

VTOL aircraft and associated ground infrastructure are not so dissimilar to current aircraft technology and ground solutions – apart from the means of propulsion – particularly helicopters and heliports.  The bulk of existing heliport regulations and standards can be applied to vertiport infrastructure to expedite the pace of introduction.

Current regulation provides significant value to the design of vertiports –  ICAO’s Annex 14 Volume II Heliports , the FAA’s AC 150/5300-13B and EC Regulation (EU) 139/2014.  Nevertheless, there are still gaps in these regulations in relation to electric vehicle recharging, the landing and take-off of autonomous vehicles and tackling battery fires.

Exemptions to existing regulations and standards will enable the industry to make some progress quickly, so long as deviations create value, are managed, proportionate and, where possible, performance based.

 

Progress with new standards

The good news is that national and international regulatory and standards bodies are alive to these issues and are already making advances with new vertiport and ground systems regulations and standards.  Skyports is playing a leading role in shaping these standards through its experience of designing, developing and operating vertiport infrastructure.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has established a Vertiport Task Force (VTF) to develop a Vertiport Design Manual (under Rule Making Task 0230) to provide guidance material to European Union Member States on the approval of the design of vertiports.  EASA is using International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 14 Volume II as a foundation for the Manual, deviating where there is proven value and the performance of the vehicles can justify it.  Concurrently the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Technical Centre is in the process of developing Vertiport Design Standards.

International standards bodies are also busy developing industry-led standards for UAM ground infrastructure as eventual EASA means of compliance.  EUROCAE has established WG112 VTOL SG5 Ground to develop standards for VTOL charging infrastructure (DP001) and the facilities, services and operational procedures at vertiports (DP002).  Skyports is chair of SG5 and Editor of DP002.  Similarly, ASTM is making progress within Committee F38 on Unmanned Aircraft Systems to develop a New Specification for Vertiport Design (WK59317).

 

Importance of co-ordination

With so many concurrent and overlapping standards there is a risk of creating regimes with different rules with which international vertiport providers will need to comply.  Clearly this would be unhelpful and potentially costly, which undermines that objective of reducing the costs wherever possible to make UAM highly accessible to the public.  Regulators and standards bodies should use the opportunity at the early stages to align efforts where possible, taking the path towards a truly internationally harmonised framework.

Early alignment between infrastructure and technology in the UAM industry is essential to the growth of this emerging industry regulations and standards coordination should be taking place from the get-go.  The regulatory requirements for vertiports could be significantly reduced and enhanced by aligning with regulatory innovations in the vehicle airworthiness standards.  This is working well in the EASA VTF as the aerodromes and airworthiness teams work together on new solutions and should be the default approach everywhere before regulations come into force and they subsequently become harder to change.

Recharging facilities inside the VoloPort (Source: Skyports/Volocopter/Nikolai Kazakov)

 

Adapting to the rapid pace of change and the role of industry

While regulators and in the industry can largely rely on existing rules today, and are rising to known issues like vehicle charging, regulators and standards bodies need to anticipate the types of regulations that will be required in the future.  Regulations are increasingly industry and standards-led, which makes sense with new, emerging and fast-changing technology at the heart of UAM and eliminates unhelpful rigidity caused by top-down regulation.

Active industry involvement in regulation and standards development is essential for the development of UAM.  There are numerous opportunities to be involved and take leadership roles in the creation of vital new rules.  Skyports takes its role seriously as an industry leader in UAM ground infrastructure by proudly playing an active role in regulatory developments.  Regulatory bodies and standards development organisations can never have too many expert participants.  If you have not already, then get involved.

 

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