When and Where
Given that the Autocopter is a Cat A, performance Class 1 aircraft with a fully automated, triplicate navigation system, based on a combination of GPS, terrain mapping and inertial positioning, there is no reason why a PPL(H) pilot should not be able to fly anywhere at anytime. With the proviso that he pays due attention to the weather.
However, the certification authorities may adopt a harder line than that, particularly with regard to night and bad weather flying. Conventional helicopters, none of which have the degree of automation possessed by the Autocopter, are constrained by three flight rules: Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flight, Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) flight. VFR means you can only go when you can see where you are going, i.e. not in cloud or poor visibility or at night. These are the conditions a basic PPL(H) pilot will be able to fly under. IMC means flight in cloud or reduced visibility where flight by reference to instruments is essential. For this the pilot must have suitable qualifications. IFR means flight in controlled airspace in any weather conditions and means the pilot needs a full instrument rating.
The current airworthiness and pilot licencing regulations are defined by the present generation of helicopters. The Autocopter is totally different and we will be working from the start to establish what will be an entirely new category of operation, whilst using a recognisable and familiar helicopter as the air vehicle. So what the certification authority might do is to establish as the baseline the extreme failure situation of a total or partial navigation system failure. Thus the pilot might find himself flying in the dark or in bad weather with the GPS signal down, or the displays down, and so the automated nav system down. Therefore, for navigation, the pilot would be flying the aircraft manually, and perhaps even using the backup flight instrumentation that all aircraft must have. So he would still need an IMC or IFR rating.
For take-off and landing the Autocopter will offer new standards of safety. For a conventional helicopter this should take place under VFR. For a fixed-wing the same applies unless the aircraft is equipped with auto-land/take-off. However, for an Autocopter, with all its nav systems operating, it fundamentally carries its own automated take-off and landing system. After an automated take-off, the GPS/inertial/terrain mapping system gets the aircraft to within 1metre of the landing site, the flight control system stabilises the aircraft at that location, the terrain mapping system ‘paints’ a picture of the surroundings and its LIDAR system shows the pilot what the landing spot looks like and any obstacles in the near vicinity.
It is hoped that the Authorities will welcome what will be a step change in the safety of VTOL operations at low levels and in poor weather and that the Autocopter will create an entirely new category of certification. Then we have to consider where the Autocopter can fly to. Again, fundamentally anywhere its nav system allows it to. But the nav system will have access to ATC overlays that identify, for example, military and air traffic controlled airspace areas together with the rules that apply to them. So the pilot may find the Autocopter’s routing system taking him in and through complex controlled airspace areas simply, easily and above all, legally, taking into account even the latest NOTAM information.
The same applies to the heights at which the aircraft can fly. The routing system will calculate safe heights and headings in order to avoid terrain and other aircraft. It is expected that the authorities will design new and possibly complex low level one-way routing systems for congested and built-up areas. These will be contained and regularly updated within the Autocopter system, minimising pilot workload by automating route following.
It might also be possible to fly the aircraft in a degraded state, say with one engine or flight control channel inoperative. The restriction would then affect the Max Take-off Weight allowed and perhaps also the number of persons that could be carried. The purpose would be so the aircraft could be flown to a maintenance base for repair.
Application of When and Where Rules to Multi-Prop, Battery Powered Aircraft
The first generation of multi-propeller Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (EVTOL) aircraft, unlike the Autocopter, present unique and new certification challenges. As far as we know, there is no agreed new standard yet and there is no identified category for their certification. Since this is a high-volume new market, authorities such as the CAA will be working hard to define suitable standards. Such Authorities will be seeking at the very least the equivalent of Cat A, performance class 1 for public transport for these new and exotic entrants to the market, but the worst performers may be severely limited as to where they can be operated and under which conditions. As all the current batch of first generation EVTOL aircraft are substantially different from each other and will approach safety issues from many directions, it is expected that any certification standard for public transport for each will take some considerable time and that some will simply not be considered safe enough or they may be given minimal, economically unviable approvals. This probably represents a very real risk for some of these expensive ventures.