Regulators Develop Vertiport Standards
By Rex Alexander, VFS Infrastructure Advisor
On Feb. 28, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released their draft engineering brief for vertiports and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft operations to industry for comment. The draft of the document, “Engineering Brief No. 105, Vertiport Design,” provides initial interim guidance for the design of both vertiports and vertistops, a facility that is exactly the same as a vertiport but without charging, maintenance or storage facilities.
According to the FAA, the engineering brief will provide the basis for an FAA advisory circular on vertiports, which is expected to be published in 2024 or 2025. The engineering brief covers vertiport geometry, airspace, markings, lighting, and charging and electric infrastructure. The brief was drafted specifically for infrastructure for electric VTOL aircraft vs. traditional fossil fuel-burning aircraft.
On March 7, the Vertical Flight Society, in collaboration with the Helicopter Association International (HAI) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), held a full review with industry stake holders of the new engineering brief at HAI’s Heli-Expo in Dallas, Texas. The industry forum compiled over 100 comments and concerns, which were used to help develop the FAA’s agenda for their public review of the engineering brief held online on March 29.
After the FAA’s review, GAMA — working closely with VFS and HAI — compiled and vetted industry feedback, preparing a comprehensive submittal package to the FAA ahead of their April 18th deadline.
Meanwhile, on March 24, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) published what it is calling the world’s first guidance for the design of vertiports. The “Prototype Technical Design Specifications for Vertiports,” or PTS-VPT-DSN, is based on existing European Union and EASA regulations, and is intended to provide guidance and best practices for vertiport design.
The document introduces the concept of a funnel-shaped area above the vertiport that is tailored to the unique operational capabilities of eVTOL aircraft. Known as “obstacle-free volume” (OFV) zones, the concept is an acknowledgement of the fact that many of the planned eVTOL operations are likely to take place in urban areas.
While the FAA’s efforts have been called out as too prescriptive and conservative by some in the industry, by comparison, EASA’s vertiport standard has been identified as too aggressive by others. This is due to the lack of empirical aircraft performance data to support the claims of some eVTOL manufacturers. A middle ground could potentially exist in the recently re-balloted ASTM International vertiport standard (now in its sixth draft iteration), which has been in development for five years.
With most eVTOL manufactures planning to certify their aircraft in the US under CFR Part 23 (Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Airplanes), some in the industry are calling for additional testing to verify an aircraft’s vertical flight capabilities. This stems from the fact that helicopters certified by the FAA under Part 27 (Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Rotorcraft) and Part 29 (Airworthiness Standards: Transport Category Rotorcraft) are required to demonstrate specific vertical lift characteristics, which Part 23 does not address. These include hovering operations, safe controllable and maneuverable flight operations in all wind azimuths from zero to at least 17 kt (20 km/h), in-ground-effect and out-of-ground-effect performance. The FAA plans to incorporate vertical-specific requirements through the means of compliance. EASA, on the other hand, is creating a bespoke new certification basis, SC-VTOL-01: “Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft,” as well as all additional documents, such as means of compliance.