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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”