International air safety regulators played a prominent part in discussions at last week’s Global Urban & Advanced Air Summit in Singapore. While professing encouragement regarding advanced air mobility technologies and services, the officials made it clear that extensive work and engagement with industry will be required to ensure the new sector of aviation gets up and running on a solid regulatory foundation.
Stephen Hillier, chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), delivered a keynote speech before participating in a regulator perspective panel. Joining him were Tan Kah Han, chief technology officer and senior director for the unmanned systems group of the Civil Aviation Authority Singapore (CAAS); Sascha Oliver Schott, EASA’s drones section manager; and FAA’s Chris Carter, director for the Asia Pacific region for the Office of International Affairs.
Hillier highlighted the significance of establishing a safety-focused ecosystem, fortified by strong support from elected officials and industry leaders, along with financial backing, to help facilitate innovation and secure public approval for advanced air mobility (AAM). Against this backdrop, he introduced the UK Future Flight program, a $365 million three-phase initiative designed to facilitate regulatory and societal preparedness, as well as the advancement and commercialization of new aircraft powered by electricity or hydrogen, some of which would operate autonomously.
Concerns over Visual Pollution from eVTOL Aircraft
Recognizing that states can improve human connectivity and safety and reduce noise through new technology, Hillier emphasized that there are other issues to mitigate, including visual pollution in low-altitude airspace over cities. Referring to the recent flight test accident involving Vertical Aerospace’s VX4 prototype, he said that while it was not a “desired outcome,” occurrences represent an integral aspect of advancing AAM.
“[I]t’s important to create conditions in which new platform types can safely innovate and failures in development are part of the process in making sure failures in operation are reduced to a minimum level,” he commented.
In building an AAM ecosystem, the CAA is working with Vertical and two other eVTOL developers, Joby and Volocopter, through certification and validation. The regulator has also issued guidance material on eVTOL consumer principles along with resources for airports and vertiports ahead of publishing technical and operational standards, Hillier reported. More eVTOL manufacturers are seeking type certification through EASA.
The UK agency has supported trials, working with medical logistics firm Apian and drone operator Skyport. The CAA currently oversees a base of half a million users, including 3,500 commercial users like Royal Mail, which is examining the potential for rural drone deliveries.
Tan said that while Singapore may not be “a state of [new aircraft] design” due to its small size and other issues, the island nation is nonetheless a significant jurisdiction for aircraft operations. In looking beyond eVTOL certification and airworthiness, operating rules, pilot licensing, and vertiport design may slightly differ in Singapore compared with Europe, necessitating further coordination and consensus-building among regulators and stakeholders.
“It’s very contextual in what we need to do,” Tan explained. “One classic example is air temperature, which is quite different [in Singapore] compared to other [regions]...we [also] don’t have the kind of land mass to put vertiports all over the place.”
The Singapore regulator first started working with EASA to share operational rules for AAM. It has since extended the collaborative approach to the FAA, as more U.S. eVTOL developers have shown interest in accessing international markets.
Are Regulators Too Slow and Proscriptive?
Acknowledging that regulators are often criticized for being slow and proscriptive, EASA’s Schott called on the industry to step up engagement with authorities to foster standard development and harmonization. “Here is our offer to be more risk-based, more performance-based, [and] increasingly willing to recognize industry standards,” he said. “But at the same time, we are hearing that there is a reluctance in active engagement in standards.”
Given that many of the new innovators lack an aerospace background and “potentially see things through a different lens,” there is a duty for regulators to stay at the right pace of innovation, Hillier insisted.
“We can’t be ahead of innovation; we need something to evaluate," he said. "We can’t be on the wrong side of innovation; that wouldn’t be practical either. It goes with the territory of innovative technology—having people within the regulator who can understand that innovative technology and be able to work sensibly to engage with the sector is a greater challenge than that of the traditional sector.”
Expanding on industry collaboration, Carter emphasized the importance of partnering with municipalities, emergency services, and utility providers. He cited the Innovate 28 initiative as an example, highlighting U.S. efforts to kickstart air taxi flights in Los Angeles during the 2028 Summer Olympics. The FAA's platform underscores the necessity of involving various entities in the building of AAM infrastructure within any given city, he said.
Regarding regulatory harmonization, Carter acknowledged that while there are differences between the FAA and EASA, certification consensus is necessary, especially when looking at foreign markets, such as Singapore. “We need to be able to translate the design into the operational environment that [countries] have,” he said.
To this end, a trio of international regulators are pooling their efforts. This involves a joint working group that includes officials from the FAA and counterparts from Brazil’s ANAC and Transport Canada Civil Aviation who are tasked with achieving regulatory alignment and transferability.
“We don’t even have total harmonization in legacy aircraft regulations, so harmonization may not be achievable,” Carter stated. “But if we can achieve the outcome that we want, which is transferability of product from one operating environment to the other, I think that’s where we need to put our focus.” To accomplish this, he argued, it is essential that those regulating the product in the operating environment understand the product’s design aspects.
“We have the same goal,” Schott added. “We have to appreciate that we have different jurisdictions, different systems with certain leading constraints and opportunities on both sides of the pond. Each has pros and cons. The emphasis should not be on total harmonization and 100 percent alignment, which is possibly unrealistic, but on transferability in which industry is interested in having products being transferred to either side; it is happening, and we are seeing this on a daily basis.”
Japanese Officials Issue Guidelines For Developing Vertiports
In late September, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) released guidelines covering the design of vertiports. The agency, which is part of the country's Ministry for Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, said the initial publication is intended to give developers outline guidance on factors such as the size, shape, configuration, and strength of ground infrastructure for eVTOL aircraft operations.
The JCAB expects take until 2028 to issue a more complete set of standards and a regulatory framework for vertiports, even though some initiatives are already underway in the country to stimulate the adoption of advanced air mobility services. For instance, eVTOL flight demonstrations are expected to be part of the 2025 World Expo in the city of Osaka. However questions about the viability of this event have surfaced lately due to the apparent reluctance of countries other than Japan to commit to staging national exhibits due to the high cost of doing so.