With commercial eVTOL aircraft operations expected to start in 2024, there’s no time like the present for the advanced air mobility (AAM) sector’s pioneers to be focusing on recruitment and training of pilots. With the task of type certification understandably dominating the agendas of aircraft developers, training organizations are focusing on filling the skills gap and how flight crew will be regulated.
Pilot training needs to be underway well in advance of the start of operations, according to Marilyn Pearson, AAM and eVTOL global regulatory affairs specialist with training group CAE. In her view, much needs to be done to ensure the availability of qualified flight crew, such as designing suitable training and developing the equipment required to deliver these programs.
CAE already has partnerships with eVTOL companies including Beta Technologies, Volocopter, and Jaunt to create curriculum and deliver training for flight crew and maintenance personnel. The Montreal-based group is engaging with manufacturers in what it views as a key growth market for aviation to understand their designs and develop training programs to support their entry into service. It recently announced plans to invest around $1 billion to support the development of aviation technologies.
FlightSafety International, which is probably CAE's most direct competitor, also has eyes on the advanced air mobility sector. "We are working with many of the companies that are working on entry into the eVTOL space," a spokeswoman told FutureFlight. "We have and continue to invest in new technologies that support new and growing segments of aviation, one of which is eVTOL aircraft, and the work we have done in developing and getting approval for virtual reality training has positioned us well for this emerging market."
The U.S.-based company said that its LiveLearning remote instruction systems are well-suited to supporting new entrants to the aviation industry. These could include the new wave of vertically-integrated eVTOL aircraft.
Despite talk among aircraft and avionics developers of so-called simplified vehicle operations and higher levels of flight deck automation, at least initially the first eVTOL pilots will have to hold full commercial ratings. “The pilots will need to have a full [operational] background, including knowledge of meteorology, extensive flying experience, and knowing how to communicate,” said CAE's Pearson. “Simplified operations doesn’t necessarily mean less training; in fact, more training may be needed to prepare pilots to deal with the increased automation.”
Agencies like the FAA and EASA are expected to eventually introduce specific training requirements for the new aircraft, but initially, flights may be permitted to get underway under a series of exemptions from current rules governing commercial operations of fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft.
“From a regulatory perspective, there are lots of similarities with how UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] got started before there were the Part 107 rules,” Pearson told FutureFlight. “There were exemptions and then rule-making.”
Another gradual aspect of the regulatory process will likely see individual type ratings required for every eVTOL aircraft. “Some of the designs are more like [fixed-wing] airplanes and some are more like helicopters, with differences in power, lift, and automation, and all with a single-pilot concept [of operations],” Pearson explained. “So initially it [regulation] will be granular and then the similarities can be regulated.”
In her view, likely points to be covered under exemptions from existing requirements could include whether an aircraft is permitted to operate under instrument flight rules (IFR), or whether it is limited to visual flight rules (VFR). The latter would prevent flights in poor weather, which clearly would have a major impact on where and when commercial operations could be conducted.
Full-flight simulators, like those already used for existing aircraft, will be part of the training infrastructure for the AAM sector, along with other devices such as virtual-motion and mixed-reality simulators. CAE is looking at how it can tailor training programs for individual eVTOL manufacturers and operators to make the process as cost-effective as possible, and this may well include training provided at their own facilities. The company, which has more than 60 training facilities around the world, sees the potential to partner with organizations like universities that are already training drone operators.
According to Pearson, public confidence in the new mode of transportation will be as critical to its success as the regulatory process. City governments and voters, she said, will want to be sure that infrastructure like vertiports can be safely and acceptably integrated into their communities. In her view, cargo-carrying and healthcare operations could pave the way for wider acceptance of passenger services.
Pearson joined CAE in January 2021 to fill her newly created role to support the group’s ambitions in the AAM sector. Previously, she spent almost 24 years with the FAA, mainly as an aviation safety inspector, including, most recently, with the agency’s AFS-820 commercial division focusing on UAS policy and implementation. She holds airline transport pilot licenses and is a certified flight instructor, including the Part 107 rating covering remote pilots of small UAS vehicles.
Recently, Pearson became co-chair of the G-35 committee of standards organization SAE International, which is focused on modeling, simulation, and training for emerging aviation technologies and concepts. She said that the group is seeking to aid efforts to establish regulations and policies that support the safe advancement of the AAM sector.