eVTOLs – the future of air transportation: are we ready?
Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados, Brazil
Marcelle Fazzato Lopes
Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados, Brazil
With the unbridled growth of cities, as well as the emergence of large urban centres, urban mobility is being rethought to optimise the transportation of people and cargo to accommodate the needs of society and to reduce environmental impacts. This leads to alternative means of transportation emerging to revolutionise locomotion.
In respect to air transportation – a technological industry with ongoing innovations – a major talking point for alternative means of urban mobility is the use of Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing aircraft (also known as ‘eVTOL’). These vehicles are able to transport passengers over short distances and at low altitudes.
Several aircraft manufacturers and other industry players have combined efforts to design, build and test different models of eVTOL all around the world, developing partnerships to propose high-tech and safe urban mobility solutions.
Key points for eVTOL operation
As indicated, eVTOLs are designed to perform vertical take-off and landings and intended to operate in largely clustered urban centres, moving passengers and/or cargo from one city point to another. The expected operation of an eVTOL and its ability to create a wide network of connections between people will inevitably lead to the need of vertiports in several points of the cities.
Airbus researchers indicate that developing urban air mobility (as vertiports) may be cheaper than building highways, railways or subway systems, which might place urban air mobility as one of the main means of transportation of the future. However, there still is – in Brazil and worldwide – a long way to go towards the implementation of the necessary infrastructure for eVTOL operations.
As an electric aircraft, eVTOLs are expected to reduce noise pollution, being projected to be much quieter than helicopters. In addition, electric aircraft are expected to generate fewer carbon emissions (or even zero emissions) and other polluting gases. Therefore, the initiatives are lined with the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), set up by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Considering the costs of non-autonomous aircraft running on fuel, eVTOL is intended to be cheaper to operate and consequently more accessible to consumers in general.
Expected to be autonomous, that is, operated following fixed routes and not receiving commands of an on-board pilot (or even remotely), eVTOLs are highly likely to revolutionise the transportation market.
However, it is important to note that the success of autonomous operations depends on consumer acceptance. Consumers who, naturally, might take time to feel comfortable aboard a pilotless aircraft. In that sense, it is anticipated that autonomous flights will be introduced after the consolidation of eVTOL operations as urban mobility vehicles.
Nowadays, the Brazilian regulatory scenario does not allow for autonomous operation of aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft. As it involves extremely sensitive issues relating to flight safety, eVTOL’s autonomous flights might be one of the most controversial topics for regulators.
As per the Brazilian Civil Aviation Special Regulation No. 94 (RBAC-E No. 94), published by the Brazilian Civil Aviation Agency (‘ANAC’), remotely piloted aircraft – such as drones and proposed eVTOLs – are not currently allowed to carry people or animals.
Thus, a regulatory reform will be required in Brazil to enable the operation of eVTOLs as presently proposed by the market. Thereby, ANAC may amend its current regulations to the extent possible and introduce new ones as necessary.
Complementing specific rules for the certification of eVTOLs and air traffic control regulations for low altitude flights are examples of amendments to accommodate the proposed operation of such aircraft and still maintain high levels of security. Specific guidelines for interactions between aircraft (ie drones, helicopters and eVTOLs) could be an example of new necessary regulations to be issued, as those will likely coexist in large urban centres.
In Brazil, it is expected that future operations of eVTOLs will be covered (i) for commercial operations – such as air taxis, by the Brazilian Civil Aviation Regulation No. 135 (RBAC No. 135), which governs the operation of aircraft of up to 19 seats with a maximum cargo capacity of 3,400 kg and helicopters; (ii) for private operations, by the Brazilian Civil Aviation Regulation No. 91 (RBAC No. 91); and/or (iii) by the RBAC-E No. 94, which governs the general requirements for the operation of drones.
Further rules may be required to be issued by the Department of Airspace Control (DECEA) and the Brazilian Telecommunications Agency (ANATEL) to establish parameters for the certification of eVTOLs – especially if it is intended to be used for autonomous operations.
Although not deeply regulated, advances have been observed on the eVTOL market worldwide. The Chinese company EHang made considerable achievements on its eVTOL project, which not only obtained a safety certificate for its eVTOL, but also received an operational flight permit in Norway, the first approval in Europe.
In addition, several entities are actively studying the future of air mobility and its impacts on the already existing infrastructure, such as the ‘Regulatory Sandbox’ project of the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority’s Innovation Hub. The initiative published key considerations for airspace integration within an urban air mobility landscape to highlight key regulatory issues to be addressed as to permit safe, efficient and zero-carbon emission operations for urban air mobility.
Despite certain countries (such as Norway and the United Kingdom) making strong advances in the regulation of eVTOLs – including the ’special condition’ for eVTOL certification published by the European Air Safety Agency in July 2019 – Brazil has not produced any regulation yet. However, considering the ongoing implementation plans and group studies that are being put in place for the subject, we must hope to see ANAC and other aviation authorities pursuing to implement such disrupting new technology sooner rather than later.
In addition, the existing worldwide infrastructure will have to be adapted to meet the needs of eVTOL operations – large-scale operations will require new takeoff and landing points (vertiports) in large urban centres, to open new routes and extend connectivity with other means of transport.
Once regulatory and infrastructure challenges are overcome, eVTOL operations are expected to be accessible to the general public and will revolutionise the way we move around our cities. We may not be quite ready yet, but we are surely one step closer each day to embracing this long-awaited technology that is certainly here to stay.
 Available at: https://c-drone-review.news/en/2019/01/23/airbus-presents-air-taxi-strategy-at-aiaa-scitech-forum Accessed on 27 October 2021.
 Available at: www.aviationtoday.com/2020/03/06/ehang-receives-operational-flight-permit-norway-caa. Accessed on 27 October 2021.
 The Civil Aviation Agency worked together with a consortium composed of Eve Urban Air Mobility Solutions, Heathrow Airport, London City Airport, NATS, Skyports, Atech, Volocopter and Vertical Aerospace. The publication is available at: https://ukairmobility.com/the-uk-caa-publishes-phase-1-results-of-future-air-mobility-regulatory-sandbox-project. Accessed on 30 October 2021.