UAM: regulatory flexibility for safety conscious innovators

There is flexibility in regulations according to the UK CAA, but innovators will have to pay more than just lip service to public opinion of the environmental impact of UAM vehicles

Regulations will continue to play catch up with the fast pace of the emerging UK market as vehicles go from concept to trial phase.

Tim Johnson, Policy Director for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that while technology was ahead of regulations, safety would always come first.

“Safety in technology will always be our first priority,” he said. “We recognise the market is moving really quickly and that innovators really want to push ahead. We want to understand what technologists and innovators are doing so we’ve established an innovation hub, which is a place innovators can come to if they want to understand more about the flexibilities that exist within the existing regulations.

He added: “If you come forward to us with a really good safety case that demonstrates that you understand the safety risks and that you have good mitigations in place, then actually we have quite a lot of flexibility within the existing regulations to allow that.”

Pushing the bounds so they learn and we learn too

Virtual and physical trials will be held in the CAA’s regulatory sandbox facility which would encourage innovators to develop concepts and methods and test any specific challenges.

Johnson said innovators were coming to the CAA to get to the point of trials and operations of new technology. As well as being good for the innovators, learning more about the challenges faced by UAM manufacturers was also beneficial for the CAA. “It’s really good for us as regulators to better understand what innovators are doing and pushing the bounds so they learn and we learn too.”

Public perception will also be a barrier to overcome before UAM vehicles are able to operate. Johnson said all vehicles will have to undergo trials and demonstrations and safely integrate with other users and the airspace.

“This is the fundamental challenge along with the safety issues, I think the public are going to be interested in privacy and visual and noise pollution of these vehicles. I don't think is a quick solution to that. I think the sector is going to need to demonstrate that it understands those issues is responsive and has in place plans for mitigating them.”

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