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DUBAI AIRSHOW NEWS: UAE Navigating Path to eVTOL Certification
Archer Aviation photo
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Advanced air mobility has taken off in both U.S. civil and military sectors, and as it begins to take root in the United Arab Emirates, regional electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle efforts are looking to the U.S. to help navigate the rigors of the electric aircrafts’ certification process.
All-electric and hybrid powered aircraft were a hot topic at the Dubai Airshow Nov. 13-17, with an Aerial Mobility stage featuring two days out of the five-day lineup dedicated to advanced aerial mobility programming.
As the UAE looks to advance its air mobility initiative, one hurdle is jumping through the formidable hoops of certification. Billy Nolen, chief safety officer for Archer Aviation — manufacturer of the Midnight eVTOL aircraft — said certification of electric vehicles is “the most rigorous” challenge facing eVTOLS takeoff, “and by design.”
“So what we used to think of as science fiction is, in fact, science fact … coming to life,” he said. “A lot of work is being done by the [Federal Aviation Administration] in the United States … and I'm here to tell you, a lot of work and great progress is being made here in the UAE.”
Nolen described the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority as “very forward leaning” with “the entire national leadership” behind it. “So this is really something that is coming to life, and I will say it will come alive in 2025.”
One key enabler in that goal is a certification pathway, he said. The United States has established this — a set of operational rules laid out by the FAA called “powered-lift.” Proposed in June, the FAA summarized the rules as “a Special Federal Aviation Regulation for alternate eligibility requirements to safely certify initial groups of power-lift pilots, as well as determine which operating rules apply to powered lift on a temporary basis to enable the FAA to gather additional information and determine the most appropriate permanent rulemaking path for these aircraft.”
When determining rules and regulations for the UAE, Nolen said, “in the end, the outcome is the same — something that takes off like a helicopter, flies like an airplane, lands like a helicopter. We may call it different things, but the outcome is the same there.”
Which means the United States’ established framework can help guide the way.
Another key enabler is an operational framework for how pilots will operate and how companies will use it, he said. The United States has a draft format from the FAA, taking comments from industry through an August closing period. Nolen said the FAA is expecting to publish a final version in September or October 2024.
Lastly, Nolen said air mobility requires a “strong integrative plan for how you will integrate eVTOLS into the national airspace, be it here in the UAE, across the world, and certainly within the United States.”
The United States has the most complex airspace in the world, and “the FAA has published an implementation plan around airspace integration,” with a regulatory framework in place that can guide other nations, “and make this a reality,” he said.
Nolen, who has former experience with the FAA, said sitting on the industry side, “we continue to look for ways for how we partner not only with the [General Civil Aviation Authority], but with all stakeholders across every part of this ecosystem to make this a true reality.”
Charting the path to eVTOL takeoff is “no easy task,” he said. “It is a heavy lift to get to the certification process. It is rigorous by design.” Expectations are high.
Using Archer’s Midnight eVTOL aircraft as an example, he said once certified, “it will be as safe as flying onboard an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787. “This is the level that we're dealing with.”
Expectations will also include zero carbon emissions, a noise signature 100 times lower than a conventional helicopter, sustainability and accessibility, he added.
While daunting, the path towards air mobility for the UAE has made great strides, Omran Hassan Malek, senior specialist, policy and regulation, advanced air mobility, General Civil Aviation Authority, UAE, said.
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, attempted to launch an initiative for advanced air mobility around 2014, he said, “but the industry wasn’t ready.” The initiative, called the Aerial Taxi Project, was relaunched in 2023, and includes an outline for aerial taxi vertiport locations and prototype designs.
“And that set a target for us in the UAE. And we're working towards it,” Malek said. He also said the UAE is doing “a lot of [research and development]” to ensure its goal of seeing flying taxis above the United Arab Emirates by 2026.