By Treena Hein

Treena Hein is an award-winning technology, science, and business writer based in Ontario, Canada. She has almost two decades’ experience in outstanding content creation, and prefers to write about emerging technologies, how technologies and industries have evolved, and the intersection of technology with public perceptions, regulatory issues, and other factors.

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How eVTOL pilot certification and training is playing out around the world

Pilot certification and training for eVTOL aircraft is moving forward around the world, and at the same time that several training initiatives have already been announced, questions remain about how the industry will fill its piloting needs in the short and long term.

Beta Alia eVTOL test pilot
Global aviation simulation provider CAE has forged partnerships with several eVTOL developers, including Beta Technologies, to create pilot training solutions for eVTOL aircraft. Beta Technologies Image

“During the recent 2022 GUAAS [Global Urban and Advanced Air Summit] in Farnborough, every OEM [original equipment manufacturer] present declared that they would be expecting to manufacture thousands of aircraft annually once certification has been achieved,” said Hugo MacNulty, co-founder and director of commercial at VertX Aero.

VertX was formed in late 2021 by three Irish companies — ASG, VectorCap, and Avtrain — with the goal of establishing Europe’s first independent, approved eVTOL training organization in 2022.

“Thousands of aircraft require thousands of pilots,” MacNulty said, “and the eVTOL flight training industry needs to be ahead of the manufacturing curve to meet the demand.”

Another pilot training announcement came in early March, when California-based Joby Aviation announced a partnership with global aviation simulation provider CAE to develop flight simulation devices to train future eVTOL pilots. CAE has already also partnered with Joby rivals Beta Technologies and Volocopter for eVTOL pilot training, and also has a relationship with Jaunt Air Mobility.

FlightSafety International, a U.S. aviation training company, has meanwhile agreed to provide pilot and maintenance training for the operation of German-based Lilium and it’s Lilium Jet eVTOL.

FlightSafety senior vice president of simulation systems Michael Vercio noted that across the eVTOL sector, pilot demand is anticipated to initially be low, but “will scale appropriately in the following years. Current industry thinking is that the advanced air mobility market may require as many as 60,000 pilots in the next 10 years.”

Whether there will be a shortage of people wanting to be pilots is anyone’s guess, but that uncertainty has no effect on how pilots will be certified, which is directly related to eVTOL type.  

Lilium
German startup Lilium is tapping into FlightSafety International to develop aviation training courseware, flight simulator training devices, and crew training for the Lilium Jet eVTOL. Lilium Image

Type matters  

Particular eVTOL pilot training schemes will differ in the U.S. depending on whether the eVTOL in question requires type rating or can simply leverage recommendations from an aircraft evaluation to inform a training program, explained Jens Hennig, vice president of operations at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

Some eVTOL designs are rotorcraft, Hennig said, but other companies are basing their designs on fixed-wing airworthiness standards. Still, other eVTOL firms are designing aircraft with powered-lift systems, similar to the Harrier Jet. Powered-lift aircraft, Hennig explained, have a unique regulatory definition that was introduced by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the mid-1990s.

But whatever the form particular pilot training programs take, Hennig is of the view that the existing single-pilot training framework in the U.S is “rigorous, mature and will adapt well to piloted eVTOLs.”

European view

VertX is actively trying to assist in developing eVTOL pilot standards in Europe.

“We’re in discussions with the IAA [Irish Aviation Authority], EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency], U.K. CAA [Civil Aviation Authority], various OEMs, synthetic training manufacturers and intergovernmental agencies to ensure that once the regulatory environment is in place for the training and licensing, we will be ready for our first eVTOL pilot students,” MacNulty said.

“We have the bedrock of ‘traditional’ aviation type certification, airworthiness limitations, and the current special conditions for eVTOL MOC [means of compliance] to guide us in the certified category,” he reported. “We currently have the regulatory structures in place for the granting of the light unmanned aircraft systems operator certificate (LUC) and air operator certificate (AOC). The certified category sits firmly in the center of this regulatory structure.”

MacNulty added that “we have the experience of the technical verification process for SAIL III & IV unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, and will shortly have SAIL V & VI operators. This is a natural segue to the certified category.”

At the same time, he noted that with most OEMs looking to gain eVTOL certification in 2024 or 2025, there will be a natural lag with pilot training requirements as EASA and the FAA finalize formal eVTOL licensing requirements.

“To overcome this,” he said, “we at VertX Aero are firmly of the opinion that all the latest digital flight training aids should be incorporated into the official training footprint.”

However, MacNulty said the long-term picture of eVTOL pilot training is still hard to discern.

At GUASS, his fellow VertX co-founder Julie Garland spoke directly to OEMs regarding their flight training plans, and MacNulty said “all agreed that in the long term … we must embrace new technology and the consideration of an entirely different practical skill set. The U.K. CAA and FAA also backed this ideology.”

Wisk Cora on ramp
Many national aviation regulators will initially require pilots on board for passenger-carrying eVTOL operations, but with companies like Wisk planning to design their aircraft for autonomous operations, many companies believe training should be provided for both piloted and future remotely piloted operations. Wisk Aero LLC Photo

Remote piloting ahead

The eVTOL sector is already looking ahead to when remote piloting of both cargo and passenger aircraft will be a reality. Indeed, some companies like Wisk, a big eVTOL player backed by Boeing and Kitty Hawk, have plans to go straight to market with autonomous air taxi services.

MacNulty and his colleagues at VertX believe that the various national aviation regulators will require pilots on board for passenger-carrying eVTOL aircraft for the next 10 to 15 years at a minimum.

Vercio and his colleagues at FlightSafety take the view at this point that eVTOL pilot training should be provided for both piloted and remotely piloted aircraft, “tailored to ensure maximum training benefit.”

As remote piloting comes closer to reality, MacNulty believes that by using technology like virtual reality and augmented reality in ultra-modern modular simulators in de-centralized training centers, the eVTOL training environment should be able to keep up with the OEMs.

“There will be lessons to be learned from the existing regulatory structure for unmanned aerial systems such as the granting of LUCs,” he said, believing future operator certification for eVTOL aircraft will lie somewhere in between the current LUC and AOC requirements.

Right now, however, Vercio explained that owing to the fact that most eVTOL OEMs are looking to begin operations with a pilot in the cockpit, the focus at FlightSafety will be on in-cockpit training.

“Having said that,” he added, “for those OEMs who are looking to begin with remotely-piloted aircraft, or those in the UAS/drone categories, it’s entirely appropriate to focus on remote pilot training.”

Simpler piloting?

As Hennig looks ahead to what actual eVTOL pilot training will look like, he said that what’s most innovative from his perspective is the way eVTOLs are being designed to make piloting easier, with a much more advanced human-machine interface.

There will be fewer things that eVTOL pilots will have to pay close attention to, he said, during periods such as the transition from take-off to vertical and then to horizontal flight.

“The eVTOL designers are spending a lot of time, energy, and resources to make operation more intuitive and straightforward compared to traditional single-pilot planes and helicopters,” Hennig noted. “This doesn’t remove the training component of course, but simplifying the controls will allow training to focus on areas of safety concern — the complex airspace system that will exist, environmental factors, and so on.”

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5 Comments

  1. 1. Experienced pilots especially rotary wing, would be needed initially as almost everything else can be replicated but not the low altitude flying ‘aviation sense ‘ which comes with hands-on experience.
    2. There is a looming worldwide shortage of pilots coinciding with initial growth trajectory of eVTOLS in the decade of 2025-35. Attracting ‘right stuff’ pilots would be a challenging task, to say the least.
    3. Maybe regulatory changes to allow retiring/ retired experienced pilots could to a large extent, mitigate this shortage.

  2. I agree that a 10-15 year projection for automated flight is more realistic than the 3-5 year target many of these eVTOL development companies are proclaiming. I myself would be interested in flying one, especially if they were launched in my home city so that I don’t need to continue the nomadic lifestyle of a helicopter pilot. But these companies won’t be successful with simultaneously declaring opposing goals: 1. we need pilots and we’re going to create a micro industry from scratch, 2. but then we’re going to lay you off just a few years after getting you trained up. This is a PR issue on two fronts – public adoption of emerging technology, while securing the labor that’s willing to try something for such a short time span. What will the FAA determine the flight hour minimums should be, 500 or 1500? Will our NextGen airspace system co-evolve, allowing more airspace automation and deconfliction? It will be interesting to see if Europe makes quicker gains than the US.

    1. I completely agree.
      I don’t see why evtol companies would open flight academies to train pilots flying the aircraft from on board when they only plan on having them for a few years that seems like an abnormally large investment for just a few years time. Also, even though the pilots on board are expected to then fly from the ground (providing some form of job security) as you said I don’t see why they would suddenly just take 60 000 pilots and then 3 years later go
      Alright see y’a to many of them. So yeah as the article said 10-15 years at a minimum.
      We’ll see after that, there may still be a requirement to have some form of crew on board even after “that much time”

      1. they still gonna need deez pilots to do remote duties once that is ok’d….

  3. Interesting how the conversation has shifted away from “flying cars’ to “piloted eVTOL aircraft” over the years – especially non-winged, street legal flying cars.

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