The FAA Is Delaying United’s And American’s Electric Air Taxis By Years

Last year United Airlines placed an order for 15 supersonic jets from Boom Technology with an option for 35 more that we could see flying sometime in the 2030s.

United, along with Mesa Airlines, also ordered 200 electric air taxis from Archer Aviation. These vertical takeoff and landing planes, flying up to 150 miles per hour for up to 60 miles, were promised as a way to commute from downtown to United’s hub by 2026. The estimated cost for the trip from Manhattan to JFK by air would be about $50.

Meanwhile American Airlines followed up that news with a ‘pre-order’ of 250 aircraft from Vertical Aerospace. They also took options on 100 more planes that promise they “can carry four passengers and a pilot, and fly at speeds up to 200 mph over a range of over 100 miles” to be flying “as early as 2024.” Virgin Atlantic also placed a Vertical Aerospace ‘pre-order’ as that time as well.

Credit: Archer Aviation

New aircraft are coming, but they’re farther off than they’ve been promised. And electric air taxis just got even farther off still, thanks to the U.S. federal government. In fact these planes are looking at delays of years. Some manufacturers may not have the financing to get through certification in the current market environment.

Transportation researcher Bob Poole writes,

Both developers of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOLs) aircraft and potential operators were shocked at the end of May when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shifted gears on how these new air vehicles are going to be certified.

…Until now, just about everyone in the emerging eVTOL industry assumed that type certificates were to be handled under Part 23, the same regulation used to certify conventional commercial airliners. FAA would have attached special conditions to the Part 23 regs to account for the ability of eVTOLs to take off and land vertically. Instead, FAA has decided to define these new aircraft as “powered lift” vehicles to be certified under Part 21.17(b) special class rules.

…FAA’s Flight Standards division has wanted to go with the “powered lift” categorization because of its concerns that typical pilots would need specialized training to fly eVTOLs…[but] there are no existing airworthiness standards under Part 21.17(b), so those will have to be created before any powered-lift aircraft can receive a type certificate.

The FAA is going to start from scratch with certification standards. Meanwhile an entirely separate process – the more conventional one – will be used in Europe. On the one hand, the U.S. is saying that European safety regulators can’t be trusted (an odd thing after various Boeing debacles). While on the other hand pursuing two completely distinct processes presents its own challenges for manufacturers, even if the European one (that “eVTOLs are aircraft with various special conditions, rather than an entirely new category”) is more familiar.

Certification is going to take years. Under current FAA plans the U.S. won’t see evTOLs in 2024 or probably even 2026.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. > Certification is going to take years. Under current FAA plans the U.S. won’t see evTOLs in 2024 or probably even 2026.

    If you actually believe what you wrote, you don’t know very much about the FAA, about how aircraft fly, about pilot training, about aviation safety, or much else.

    I’ve got some bad news for you: You won’t be seeing any aircraft like these operating as you envision in 2026 or 2027. In fact, not for at least another 20 years or probably more. So many things stand in the way, not just the slow-moving FAA (yes, the FAA moves slowly, it is an extremely bureaucratic, conservative, risk-averse organization, always has been, always will be…this is a feature, not a bug).

    The level of ignorance and swallowing hilarious marketing hype nonsense in this space is breathtaking.

  2. There is an error in the article’s quotation. Part 23 is not used to certify commercial airliners. That’s Part 25. Part 23 is for general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna 172.

    You’re right however that certification is going to take years, and anyone claiming they are on track to meet 2024 (or 2026 for that matter) is lying. (Their engineers know this.)

    The issue prompting the FAA to change course is interesting–it has to do with a set of performance based standards added to the Part 23 certification requirements known as amendment 63. The idea is that you can certify all sorts of new designs and new systems never used within the Part 23 classification of aircraft by meeting these performance based requirements. While the Aircraft Certification division of the FAA got behind this idea for certifying air taxis, Flight Standards, Human Factors, and ATO never bought-in and it was those divisions that ultimately forced the change.

    If anything, this move will better align the FAAs ultimate rule making with EASA’s approach, which is more conservative. Very few believe the FAA will pull off this new rule making in two years (required to meet stated 2024 deadlines.) There are also a number of air taxi OEMs who never thought performance based standards made any sense for these vehicles, and those OEMs have been doing certification piece-by-piece through a process known as “special conditions” from day-1. While this rule change doesn’t disrupt the timeline or cert strategy of these OEMs as much as it does others (cough*Joby*cough,) those OEMs aren’t going to make a 2024 deadline either.

  3. Reality is that battery technology won’t allow this kind of aircraft to be commercially viable under existing or proposed safety regulations for probably a generation. The batteries are still too heavy relative to the power they create. There are some efficiencies to be gained by arranging motors all over the aircraft which can be done simply by stringing some wires. So there is an advantage there.

    Simply put, as much as I would like it to be true, physics will prevent this type of aircraft from entering commercial for about two decades. Similar to cars, we will likely see “hybrid” petroleum powered aircraft with electric assist first.

  4. The FAA is saving itself and AA and UA a whole lot of heartache.
    Not only will all of these little aircraft clog up airspace around the very airports that AA and UA use, but the FAA is nowhere near “perfecting” the use of airspace for them not to interfere with airline operations. near airports.
    Add in that allowing air taxis is not just to the benefit of airlines but opens up a huge volume of air traffic over densely populated urban areas and the US needs to get air taxis completely right. The first time one hits a building and kills dozens of people or crashes onto a road causing dozens of road accidents will change the narrative completely.

    Europe will tax the heck out of air taxis while whatever the Chinese do won’t matter if the US doesn’t allow their products to fly in the US any sooner than American made models.

  5. Although eventually we are likely to see something like these aircraft in use, I doubt it will be in the next decade or more. Furthermore, much of this industry is little more than a giant environmental grift. Airlines “invest” money and make big orders that mean nothing because it allows them to get tons of free PR about how environmentally friendly they are. Meanwhile, these big “orders” have allowed these companies to access tons of capital, particularly in the 2020/21 VC environment when there was far more available capital than good companies to invest in. As the economy slides into recession, and technological, regulatory, and manufacturing realities hit, I would imagine many or most of these companies end up in bankruptcy and air travel continues in more or less its current form.

  6. After the Boeing debacle the FAA is going to have to be extra cautious for some time to come in order to regain their reputation. In practical terms that means making decisions like this rather than taking the easier path.

  7. I agree with Lars. Batteries are simply energy storage devices. Until battery storage technology can produce more energy at less weight, and cost, than that of a fuel tank, turbine and ICE powered aircraft will not be replaced in commercial operations.
    I’m having a difficult time imagining the battery pack required to fly a B787 from DFW-SYD.

  8. The FAA is not “Delaying United’s and America’s Electric Air Taxis By Years,” reality is.

  9. Well I am obviously biased I believe that sanity will prevail and the permanent Administrator will reverse this decision and move forward in a safe, sensible and expeditious manner. The benefits of decarbonization, decongestion and most importantly safety of the traveling g public demands a different approach. With over 50,000 people being killed on our roads new, safer technology needs to be embraced not stymied in bureaucracy. It’s really that simple.

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