The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) brought the roll-out of commercial vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flights one step closer July 2 with the release of a special condition to enable the safe operation of hybrid and electric VTOL aircraft.

The special condition, which was opened for public consultation in October 2018, and on which EASA consulted with its international partners, refers to VTOL aircraft in the “small” category, with seating for up to nine passengers and a maximum certified takeoff mass of up to 3,175 kg using lift/thrust units to generate powered lift and control. The certification objectives are made dependent on the type of operation to provide flexibility and proportionally and to give clear visibility to the industry of the objectives for their designs, EASA said. 

EASA executive director Patrick Ky said: “We are actively engaging with the industry to develop the right technical requirements to take benefit of the new technologies bringing safety and environmental benefits to the community.”

The announcement comes as manufacturers and technology startups intensify their efforts to find new ways to face up to the transport needs of growing and increasingly congested cities as well as the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions. 

Airbus said during the Paris Air Show that it was teaming up with the operators of Paris’s airports and public transport system, Groupe ADP and RATP, to work on an urban mobility demonstration project incorporating vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) flying vehicles, in time for the Olympic Games, which Paris is hosting in 2024. 

Ky added: “The establishment of a common set of conditions for the certification of these new concepts of vehicles will enable a fair competition on the European market as well as clarity for future manufacturers and their investors.”

The special condition includes two certification categories—Basic and Enhanced—which are linked to the intended type of operations. 

While a direct relationship between airworthiness and type of operations already exists, for example in the certification of VFR or IFR operations, EASA said, introducing this additional link provides greater scalability in setting safety objectives, allowing for the highest safety levels—Enhanced Category—to be assigned for the protection of third-parties for aircraft flying over congested areas and for the commercial air transport of passengers.

“The operational rules can then be built on demonstrated aircraft safety levels and adapted as necessary to local particularities,” EASA added.

Helen Massy-Beresford,