The UK Civil Aviation Authority (‘CAA’) announced last week that it will use the certification standards informing the ‘Special Condition for small-category VTOL aircraft’ (the ‘Special Condition’ or ‘SC-VTOL’), developed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (‘EASA)’, as the basis for the certification of new models of electric vertical take-off and landing (‘eVTOL’) aircraft in the UK.

What is SC-VTOL?

EASA pioneered VTOL certification through the issuance of the Special Condition on 2 July 2019, which sets out the technical specifications and requirements developers must meet to achieve certification for new models of VTOL aircraft intended to carry passengers.

In doing so it recognised that VTOL aircraft are an entirely new category of vehicle for regulators, noting in the preamble to the Special Condition that ‘despite having design characteristics of aeroplanes, rotorcraft or both, in most cases EASA was not able to classify these new vehicles as being either a conventional aeroplane or a rotorcraft as covered by the existing certification specifications.’

The Special Condition applies to small rotorcraft with:

  1. a passenger seating configuration of nine or fewer; and
  2. a maximum certified take-off mass of 3,175 kg.

It is now confirmed that the CAA will use SC-VTOL as a basis for the certification of eVTOL aircraft in the UK.

Why is this announcement important?

We have all seen the glossy marketing shots of eVTOL models whizzing between skyscrapers. The reality of having to get these specialised aircraft certified for passenger transportation by the regulating aviation authority in each jurisdiction around the world is far less glamourous – but nevertheless, vitally important.

It is critical for the travelling public that these vehicles are held to the highest possible safety standards, and for developers that these standards are clear and consistent across jurisdictions. If the CAA standards align with EASA’s, those developing eVTOLs in the UK can have increased confidence that their vehicles will also be certified for operation in Europe, which will contribute to passenger confidence as well as making these efforts a more attractive proposition for financiers and collaborators. As the CAA noted in its announcement:

‘Harmonising safety standards across nations and continents helps to maintain high levels of safety, as well as reducing industry costs and avoiding duplication of effort. By working together the UK industry has easier access to the wider global market.’

This announcement is a significant step forward for eVTOL regulation in the UK, especially as the CAA continues to work with other regulators (such as the US Federal Aviation Administration) to develop and coordinate these standards on a global basis.