While common European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) standards exist, a complex network of helicopter operational rules still prevails in the various regions and needs streamlining, according to industry leaders. This becomes particularly critical when new entrants, such as eVTOL aircraft, enter the market, they agreed.
Today, the European aerospace industry is highly regulated through a multitude of regulations and standards at national and international levels, noted NHV Group CEO Thomas Hütsch. However, he added that maintaining a single standard would introduce other issues.
“While one can only be in favor of having the same set of rules and standards across Europe, we also see that in practice, this complex matrix leads to an administrative burden with long processes and increasing waiting time,” Hütsch said. “Local authorities are also working closer to their customers, which has advantages as well.”
Last year the EASA mandated a working group to identify administrative burdens for small and medium operators, affirmed Christian Mueller, chairman and technical director of the European Helicopter Association (EHA, Booth 7319). “The discussions were very constructive and eye-openers for all participating. It was possible to identify a number of areas where improvements can be made,” Mueller observed. “We welcome such processes where open discussions are possible. It should serve as a model of how the industry and regulators can work together.”
In comparison to other regions such as North America, the complexity of European regulations—whether in the EU or in non-member countries—is a limiting factor for wider use of aviation, particularly in the public/corporate/VIP sector and for trans-border operations, said Christopher Grainger, vice president of marketing for the European, Middle East, and Africa regions at LCI Helicopters (Booth 11348). “From a lessor’s perspective, our preference is for more streamlined regulations because this would likely lead to greater equipment standardization, making it easier to remarket or resell aircraft,” he said.
Future of eVTOLs
Stressing that eVTOLs have the potential to transform the industry, Hütsch emphasized that regulations and the helicopter industry itself must also remain future-minded as developing sustainable and efficient transport means will be critical. But, the question may be when they will reach the market.
“Although much progress has been made, it will still take significant breakthroughs in technologies, particularly battery technology, before these technologies become sophisticated enough to truly be game-changers,” he said. “For the years to come, they will lack the size and power to replace helicopters in most mission scenarios. And if eVTOLs would have to meet or exceed the safety standards already in place for traditional aircraft, the latter would still be the cheaper option for the foreseeable future.”
As with any new aviation technology, Hütsch remarked, “the regulatory issues to be considered are numerous and complex, but the real challenge might be at the end of the road: will potential customers feel safe enough to board an air taxi and will the general public allow them to fly over their houses?”
LCI is engaged with developers, original equipment manufacturers, operators, investors, and other stakeholders about new initiatives in the advanced air mobility (AAM) and eVTOL markets. “As an operating lessor, we are a long-term investor, so we are taking a particularly close look at the market and technologies of the future,” said Grainger. “However, there needs to be a sound business case, and this will require support from lessors, financiers, and possibly governments. In order to achieve this, there needs to be some product maturity, a wide application and customer base, and longer technology cycles to avoid obsolescence.”
While many of the current projects are focused on urban air mobility or air taxis, LCI has typically invested in assets that perform mission-critical functions, stated Grainger. “These could include cargo transportation and logistics, but also have specific applications in aeromedical—including emergency medical services and search and rescue, reconnaissance or remote sensing or humanitarian support,” he said. “In these roles we see AAM and eVTOL playing a complementary role to existing technology, including the larger, new-generation helicopters which comprise the majority of our fleet.”
Indeed, the helicopter industry sees eVTOL as a complement to the current set of capabilities, agreed Mueller. “Many operators have started to form partnerships with drone operators or set up capabilities themselves to better serve the customers. But we also have to be clear that drones have taken a toll on the less complex operations like film and photo flights,” he said. “These sectors are ‘lost’ except for very special types of operation like live video streaming during car races or rallies. So, it is a mixed picture, especially for smaller operators that depended in part on these operations. Ultimately, the industry needs to combine the capabilities of different technologies into a seamless service offer for potential customers.”