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Dickson: FAA currently engaged with more than 15 eVTOL projects

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently engaged with the builders of more than 15 eVTOL aircraft for urban air mobility, according to FAA administrator Steve Dickson.

FAA administrator Steve Dickson - eVTOL remarks
FAA administrator Steve Dickson speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit. USCOC Video Screenshot

Dickson cited the number in a March 5 address at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit, a written version of which is available on the FAA website.

In his remarks, Dickson focused on future aviation technologies, and the need for regulators to “strike the right balance” between encouraging innovation and assuring safety.

“There’s so much promise from innovation and technology, but at the same time, so much potential for problems if we don’t get it just right,” he said. “So we have no choice — we need to get it right.”

Dickson’s remarks on urban air mobility followed a mention of two recent FAA notices related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). One of those was a notice of policy requesting comments for the type certification of UAS as a special class of aircraft.

The other was a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) concerning remote identification — the ability of a UAS in flight to provide identification information that can be received by other parties. The comment period for that NPRM closed on March 2 with more than 53,000 comments received.

Dickson described remote ID as “a key enabler for beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS, and the drone traffic management systems that we’ve been working on with NASA.”

Although some eVTOL aircraft — such as the Joby S4 — will have human pilots initially, most industry observers see autonomous operations as essential for reaching the scale envisioned by proponents of urban air mobility.

“BVLOS is essential for urban air mobility, or UAM, better known as flying taxis,” Dickson said. “According to my team, we are currently engaged with the builders of more than 15 electric vertical take-off and landing UAM aircraft projects. In January, we saw North America’s first public demonstration of an autonomous two-seat flying taxi — an EHang EH216 taking flight in Raleigh, albeit with no passengers.”

He continued, “We’re using a crawl, walk, run approach as we mature the aircraft technologies and air traffic management procedures to do this. And at this point, I’ll note that we’re still in the crawling phase for both but making rapid progress.”

Dickson’s remarks follow Jan. 13 comments by Jay Merkle, executive director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, that at least six urban air mobility aircraft are “well along” in their type certification.

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