EU regulator releases initial set of rules for UAM and air taxi operations

EASA UAM air taxi

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has released what it calls the world’s “first comprehensive” set of proposed regulations for next generation aerial urban mobility (UAM) aircraft like air taxis that will operate in city environments.

The EASA document is a wonk fantasy. Rather than offering broad strokes of how vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles will spirit passengers around cities, the 295 page text piles on all the arcane details of operation that developers of those craft need to know in producing prototypes adaptable to future rules.  In other words, the EASA’s proposed set of regulations is not intended to give the general public a peek into how UAM services like air taxis will fit into peoples’ lives and movements. 

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Instead, an agency press release noted, it is intended to guide the “(m)anufacturers in Europe (who) have signaled to EASA that they will be ready for certification of VTOL aircraft in the next few years.” The work-in-progress text is open for input from individuals, public administrations, and UAM craft manufacturers and future air taxi operators until September 30.

Despite the draft regulation being utterly impenetrable to virtually everyone who will hop aboard an air taxi or other UAM service provider to get around town or out to an airport, the EASA says the document is vital working tool for manufacturers. It also calls it a milestone in the nearing rollout of next generation air travel across the globe.

“With this, EASA becomes the first aviation regulator worldwide to release a comprehensive regulatory framework for operations of VTOL-capable aircraft, which will offer air taxi and similar services,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky. “The publication reinforces the leadership EASA is showing in this area of innovation. At the same time, we have done our best to address general societal concerns and the expectations of EU citizens with respect to safety, security, privacy, environment, and noise.”

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The proposed rules complement existing EU regulations that apply to drones. Unlike those, the new text only covers piloted UAM craft – leaving automated air taxi operation aside for now  – as well as detailing requirements for air traffic in Europe’s U-space, VTOL certification processes, and guidelines on vertiport designs

Its objective is to facilitate air taxi integration into the EU’s “smart, green and digital” cities initiative, and continue work to establish European-wide rules on UAM and drone transport of cargo and people when initial air taxi services are expected to be rolled out in 2024.

The cooperative push as the arrival of UAM aircraft nears has been evident among regulators of late. In March, the CAA and US Federal Aviation Administration agreed to work together toward similar certification procedures in both countries. And just last month, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it would adopt the EASA’s VTOL standards in the UK’s certification process, raising hopes that a triangular US-UK-EU harmonization may be possible.

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