Changing a light bulb in a commercial passenger aircraft is not so simple of a task as running down to the local aircraft parts store and picking up a couple of “Made in China” 60-watt generic light bulbs and popping in a replacement. Not only is the replacement light bulb subject to FAA approval and regulatory oversight under 14 CFR Part 21, but so are the maintenance facility and the aircraft mechanic changing the light bulb. When you really think about it, the regulatory oversight that applies to just changing a light bulb is quite extensive. Tomorrow’s UAM air taxi operations will be no exception when it comes to regulatory oversight.
I’ll admit, there is so much more that needs to be done before electric aircraft become the next form of everyday public transportation in the U.S. There are still several challenges (e.g., aircraft certification, airspace, ATC, public acceptance…) yet to be resolved before the UAM industry will take-off (pun intended). One very critical component of the UAM industry’s success is the certification of UAM operations under 14 CFR Part 135.
Part 135, in general, applies to commercial “On-Demand” and certain “Commuter” operations in aircraft/rotorcraft carrying less than 30 passengers (9 for scheduled/commuter operations) with a maximum payload capacity of 7,500 pounds, which is why Part 135 will be the applicable UAM aircraft operating in the U.S. Part 135 covers just about every aspect of a certificate holder’s operations, including, for example, the approval of key management personnel, the required aircraft maintenance, pilot qualifications and screening, aircraft operational manuals, insurance, and various safety-related programs.
Before a UAM operator such as Uber Air is permitted to carry paying passengers, they must first demonstrate to the FAA that its operations meet the Part 135 safety standards and operational requirements necessary for commercial passenger operations. Only then will the FAA issue the air taxi operator the required Part 135 certificate.