Opinion: Regulation Must Be Nimble Enough to Allow AAM Evolution

XPeng flying car concept
Credit: XPeng

Happy Birthday, George Jetson! But . . . get some regulatory compliance training.

Thanks to the internet—and attentive calculations by serious fans of vintage cartoons—we know that George Jetson’s birthday is coming up. While there is some disagreement among various “fandom” sites, George was (or will be) born sometime in the summer of 2022.

We will meet him and his family in 40 years: The 1962 premiere of “The Jetsons” was set a century in the future. George, Jane, Judy and Elroy zip around 2062 Cloud City in a glass-domed flying car, from home at the Skypad Apartments to their various destinations: schools, the shopping center and work at Spacely Sprockets, to chronicle the cartoon’s opening.

To make their stratospheric existence possible, we have work to do. Both existing technology companies and entrepreneurial market entrants excitedly promote so-called “emerging” technologies to power advanced air mobility—our humble precursor to the Jetsons’ saucer-like personal vehicle. However, the industry must remain committed to making the structure of its current rules work for that future vision.

Doing so means returning to a general point ARSA’s authors have often made in Inside MRO. I implored colleagues not to “reinvent the wing” in regulating the use of additive manufacturing in production and maintenance (Inside MRO January 2018, p. MRO7). ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein urged against “rushing new regs” in the rollout of electric-powered aircraft (Inside MRO September 2021, p. MRO6). Executive Director Sarah MacLeod has often repeated the association’s axiom “if it ain’t prohibited, it’s allowed” to blunt expansionist regulatory readings, most recently exercising the phrase in print for a column about remote connectivity (Inside MRO May 2020, p. MRO7).

In 2016, the FAA released the new Part 23, “Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Airplanes.” The new rule “will allow manufacturers and suppliers of products and technologies for small airplanes to develop and deliver innovative products to their customers more quickly and to better leverage new technologies,” ARSA’s colleagues at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association said in response. “Rather than having to comply with overly prescriptive design requirements, manufacturers will now be able to more nimbly respond in a cost-effective manner through performance-based airworthiness safety rules and consensus standards for compliance.”

The rule was written to handle any type of aircraft. It can adapt to modern materials, advancing technology, and may someday help bring the Jetson family to Molecular Motors to purchase their Level 2, low-speed, performance-­certificated flying vehicle (see, 14 CFR §23.2005[b][2] and [c][1]). We will get there by remaining committed to performance-based oversight, not only in design and production, but also in maintenance and operations.

You’ll certainly read more on this general theme as aviation business and technology evolve. Regardless of the specifics, enjoying robot maids, self-cooking meals and flying cars in 2062 depends on our commitment to sensible regulatory interpretation right now. 

Brett Levanto is vice president of operations at Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, managing firm and client communications in conjunction with regulatory and legislative policy initiatives. He provides strategic and logistical support for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.


1 Comment
If it is also a car (four wheels or more) that will drive on a public roadway in the USA, then it also Must be certified by the NHTSA to meet the current safety standards for cars and also by the EPA to meet the current environment rules. The NHTSA safety regulations add a Lot of weight for safety for a car. However, if the vehicle has only three wheels, it is considered a Motorcycle which has very limited safety rules and therefore minimal extra weight.