Ampaire is Working Together with FAA to Certify Hybrid-Electric Eco Caravan
By Jon Adams, Director of Certification
Editor’s note: As we prepared to publish this article, the FAA indicated it plans to change certification requirements for eVTOL aircraft, likely extending the timeline for eVTOL certifications. We believe hybrid-electric fixed wing aircraft such as Ampaire’s Eco Caravan mitigate many of these certification risks, and we plan to discuss the ramifications in a subsequent post. But one conclusion is clear: a close working relationship with the FAA is crucial.
For Ampaire’s Eco Caravan or any other new aircraft design to reach the market, it must first be certified by the FAA (and/or Europe’s EASA). Many other countries will then accept those certifications with little or no additional requirements.
The general public likes to know that government agencies are keeping a close eye on the safety of new aviation products. But with 200 or so electric aircraft programs (plus hydrogen-powered aircraft and new conventional aircraft) all striving to reach the market, you might wonder how our beleaguered civil servants are able to provide proper oversight and help industry innovate.
The answer: It’s a struggle. Congress, in establishing the FAA in 1958, gave it a dual mandate to promote civil aviation and regulate safety — an often tricky balancing act. But one the FAA takes quite seriously. It recently formed the Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation (CECI) to foster new technologies and better manage the flow of new certification programs.
The head of CECI, James Wilborn reported at the SAE AeroTech 2022 conference that it has eight managers in the program integration role and already 70 innovation projects in the pipeline. The Eco Caravan is the first hybrid-electric aircraft to enter the FAA certification process. Because the agency has never certified such a propulsion system, it does not fall neatly into existing certification rules. When this happens, and it happens quite a bit, the FAA develops new guidance and materials such as “Special Conditions,” “Issue Papers,” and “ELOS” (Equivalent Level of Safety). These are new rules that an aircraft and its propulsion system must meet.
Because Ampaire is the first to enter the FAA approval process with a hybrid-electric aircraft, it will play a big role in helping to establish the standards for this propulsion category. CECI, in working with Ampaire in this new area, is committed to conducting a collaborative effort to develop new certification standards.
In setting standards, the FAA also relies heavily on industry groups that bring together manufacturers, government, academia and other independent engineering experts. Organizations such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) work to achieve consensus on standards for everything from grades of oil to aluminum alloys to new charging infrastructure for electrified aircraft.
Ampaire is an active participant in these efforts. In fact, SVP Operations Susan Ying is the VP Aerospace serving on the SAE Board and Chief Technical Officer Ed Lovelace is the Deputy Chair of SAE’s E-40 electrified propulsion committee. Director of Certification Jon Adams is also currently involved with a new ASTM task group that is in the process of developing the new standards.
All of these industry and FAA coordination activities require significant management time and expertise. To bring new technology to market it isn’t enough to innovate and engineer. Successful companies will know how to navigate the certification process and participate in infrastructure development. Ampaire is one of those companies.
Ampaire will shorten time to market for initial products by pursuing a supplemental type certificate (STC) for a new propulsion system to be installed on an already certified aircraft. The STC process is typically significantly shorter and less risky than certifying an all new aircraft. Ampaire seeks to bring the Eco Caravan to market in 2024.
By contrast, full aircraft certification can be a long and winding road. It took eight years for Boeing to certify the 787, which broke new ground as a mostly composite airplane with a higher level of electrification at the systems level. It took Beechcraft (now part of Textron) more than 10 years to certify the Hawker 4000 business jet. These examples from established manufacturers suggest that companies expecting to certify all-new electric aircraft by 2024 are facing major hurdles.
All the more reason for Ampaire to continue on its practical path and foster a close collaboration with the FAA. We’re off to a good start.