By Alex Scerri

Alex Scerri started his aviation career in 1994 and initially flew for Air Malta. He joined Emirates in 2006, flying several types including the Airbus A380 as captain and worked in the fleet technical office. He is passionate about aviation safety and is looking forward to seeing urban aviation as the new mode of safe and clean city mobility.

q-and-a

How EUROCAE is helping create standards for eVTOL aircraft

Founded in 1963, the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE) is the European leader in the development of worldwide industry standards for aviation. A non-profit, membership-driven organization, it provides the platform, procedures, and processes for industry experts to create the high-quality standards it is known for. 

I recently met up with its director general, Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner, at the organization’s headquarters in Paris to discuss EUROCAE’s history as a standards developing organization (SDO) and how it is now playing an important role in setting standards for a new generation of eVTOL aircraft. 

Christian Schleifer EUROCAE
Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner, EUROCAE’s director general, joined the organization in 2014 and has overseen significant transformation and growth. Alex Scerri Photo

Alex Scerri: Christian, can you give me some background on your professional path that brought you to EUROCAE? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner: I am an electronics engineer by profession. I obtained my avionics engineer license 30 years ago and started working at a maintenance organization in Austria where we did avionics repairs and modifications. 

In 1997, I joined the civil aviation authority in Austria, Austro Control, working on airworthiness and certification. I did certification work on the avionics and electrical system for the Boeing B737 NG and the Dash 8 series as part of a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) team. I also worked on our homegrown Diamond Aircraft DA40, which was the first GA [general aviation] aircraft with a glass cockpit. As I spent more and more time in flight testing, this led me to obtain a pilot license and now I have been flying for 20 years and still fly my Mooney regularly. 

In 2009, I was asked by the Austrian Ministry of Transport to take the Air Navigation Commission (ANC) seat in ICAO and was subsequently elected as president of the ANC in 2012 and 2013. This was quite exciting work because you get the global overview of most sectors in aviation. 

I joined EUROCAE in mid-2014. There were already some big changes in process, so my task was to modernize and refresh the organization’s working methods, procedures, and processes. I liked the challenge and accepted the job. 

Alex Scerri: How would you explain the function of EUROCAE, for example when compared to regulatory bodies such as EASA? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner: What we publish and how we arrive to the published document is a little bit different. Aviation regulations are transitioning to being a high-level requirement, while we provide the Minimum Operation Performance Standards (MOPS) to support them. Our job is to complement and support the regulatory framework. 

For example, say you have a European Technical Standard Order (ETSO) for your Communication System. The ETSO issued by EASA will be a one- or two-page document, that will then list all the EUROCAE Documents (EDs) that you comply with to get EASA approval. These could run into several hundred pages with all the necessary technical details. 

We are only 10 direct employees here at EUROCAE itself, but our assets are the 4,000 experts nominated from currently 380 members in 50 different working groups (WGs). There has been a big shift in the last decade, which we started with around 700 experts. This was due to the regulators’ move towards performance-based/risk-based operation-centric regulations, which potentially expands the number of standards that can be used to demonstrate compliance. This adoption of more performance-based regulations and other new activities like VTOL led us to grow by 10% per year since I joined the organization. 

Volocopter eVTOL Singapore
Although EUROCAE’s VTOL working group is developing standards with EASA’s Special Condition VTOL framework in mind, they could be applied in support of other regulatory frameworks, too. Volocopter Photo

Alex Scerri:  What are some of the collaborative agreements that EUROCAE has in place and what is their significance? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  Historically, EUROCAE always sought collaboration with other organizations. We did not see our work as a competition, so that attitude was never in our DNA. We have a collaboration agreement with RTCA since the early days, and later concluded one with SAE, mainly to do joint activities, but also to coordinate what kind of work we are planning so that we do not duplicate and overlap activities. Our members always remind us that resources are limited, so while they are willing to contribute to the standards development process, duplication would be an avoidable waste. 

There are some newcomers in the standards development organization ecosystem that have different business models, unlike RTCA and ourselves that are member-driven. Therefore, their triggers of how and why to develop the standard is sometimes different. 

EUROCAE is the only standards development organization having a publicly available technical work program. When we do workshops, kickoff meetings, etc. we invite all our partners, including other SDOs, to give their input. This is not always reciprocated but we are committed to openness for the benefit of the global aviation industry. 

So, yes, we are facing a slightly different environment but our goal is still to be open, transparent, and to seek collaboration with other SDOs. 

We have just recently signed a high-level agreement with ASTM, where we have some interfaces on the Global Reporting Format (GRF) for runway friction and for VTOL so that we can cross-participate and exchange information and documents. 

Alex Scerri: Specifically, for VTOL, you have working group WG-112, which is very active. When was this formed and how many OEMs do you have at present? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  We started in June 2019 with a workshop which is our method to gauge what kind of structure we need for a working group. All involved stakeholders, members, and non-members of EUROCAE were invited. This helped us understand the demand, the priorities, the regulators’ activities, etc. Based on that, we defined the working group’s program. For example, for WG-112, we recognized that we needed subgroups to split the work activity. 

WG-112 was also a pilot project where we tested the “lean process.” Due to the demand expressed in this workshop with a lot of newcomers, we made it easier for individuals to join. This is not the usual method, as normally participation is through a member organization. We also gave WG-112 a bit more flexibility in shaping and defining its work program just because so many subjects were completely new. After its first year, we did a review of this “lean process,” and there are some parts which we can use in other cases. For some aspects, however, our conventional, more structured method is still beneficial. In fact, many individual participants in WG-112 converted later to a regular organization membership. 

Currently we have around 15 different OEMs, plus other organizations, regulators, and academia. We started with a workshop of 80 people and now we have around 500 participants registered in WG-112. 

 Alex Scerri:  Would I be correct in saying WG-112 is still quite Europe-centric? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  Absolutely not. It is true that we see EASA and EUROCAE together taking a clear leading role here. But we also see the FAA, the Singapore CAA and several other certification authorities from around the world actively participating. 

We also recently had some interest from U.S.-based airframers. I would say, yes, there is always room for more global participation, but I also think we have already a good international mix today. 

And whilst the standards developed by WG-112 are developed with a particular view to the European legal framework, namely the EASA Special Condition VTOL, they are of course suitable to be applied to support other regulatory frames. 

Alex Scerri:  Harmonization is something important for global standards, and also for VTOL. How does EUROCAE help to achieve this and at what point would you see the need of having a different standard? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  As a clear example, there is already something available on the ASTM side for VTOL seat standards. We linked up to make sure that we do not duplicate effort and make use of each other’s standards. If any of our members think there is a need of a different standard, they have the right to initiate this activity. The big reality check is when we do a call for participation where we see how many stakeholders are interested in committing resources to take a new proposal forward. 

Alex Scerri:  Looking at the broad swathe of subgroups in WG-112, which is the subject that EUROCAE thinks will need the most effort to come up with a standard? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner: We leave it to the WG to set its priorities. Now that we have several VTOL prototypes flying, we may see a shift in these priorities as the members gain knowledge and data in this new field of aviation. It is the WG’s task to keep this flexibility, to adjust the focus where needed. Particularly in WG-112 there are several standard development projects in parallel. Nevertheless, you are right, there is always a need to prioritize and focus the limited resources to the most urgent topics.  

Lilium eVTOL
EUROCAE has around 500 participants registered in WG-112, its working group for new VTOL aircraft including eVTOL air taxi designs. Lilium Image

Alex Scerri:  Beyond eVTOL, what are the dominant challenges in aviation standards that EUROCAE is working on? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  With the ever-wider interconnectivity of aircraft and supporting infrastructure, cybersecurity became a big factor. We started WG-72, Aeronautical Systems Security, which has produced a full set of documents. EASA now includes cybersecurity in all certification specifications — CS-23, CS-25, CS-27, CS-29, CS-APU, CS-E, CS-P, CS-ETSO — a dedicated CS paragraph points to an AMC material where our standards are referenced. ED-201, ED-202A, ED-203A, and ED-204A are the specific EUROCAE documents addressing cybersecurity. More are under development. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another good example. We started WG-114, which we are running together with SAE International, which is a high demand/high participation group encompassing the different areas of AI. A standard is not always a technical specification of a product but could also be process you apply in development, which could be particularly relevant for AI. Similar approaches were taken for software and cybersecurity. 

Our work program also includes WGs on hybrid, electric propulsion systems, electrification of aircraft as these complement European and worldwide environmental goals that need to be addressed. 

The challenge of last year also saw us react quickly and publish ED-287 – Guidance Document on Aircraft Cleaning and Disinfection. We published this from the initiation to the publication on Dec. 24, 2020 in just 120 days, showing our reactivity while maintaining the high quality of the final document that is our hallmark which we don’t want to compromise. 

Alex Scerri: Christian, any message you would like to give to the VTOL community? 

Christian Schleifer-Heingärtner:  I must say VTOL is a very good example of how the system can work. Since the first workshop, the involvement of the regulators, EASA and from around the world shared clear expectations. There was also the drive from the industry to move forward quickly and the target of building a safe, certifiable product. This is really a good driver to establish a dynamic WG like WG-112 to deliver something concrete. We already published three documents and one change: ED-278 – Concept of Operations for VTOL Aircraft – Volume 1; ED-293 – Concept of Operations for VTOL Aircraft – Volume 2; and ED-289, including Change 1, Guidance on Determination of Accessible Energy in Battery Systems for eVTOL Applications. Many more are close to be published or under development, so stay tuned for the newest releases.  

Just last week I visited EASA in Cologne where we agreed that this type of agile cooperation could be an example for other projects while still producing quality documents which should always be the target of any standards organization. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. Alex Scerri is a volunteer participant in WG-112.

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