Urban Air Mobility – Operation of Air Taxis – Part 1

It’s not just Dorothee Bär, German Minister of State for Digitisation, who believes in the future of air taxis. Worldwide numerous start-up companies such as Ehang, Kitty Hawk, Volocopter or Lilium as well as groups such as Airbus, Uber or Audi are researching on the development and conception of air taxis for inner-city traffic.

On May 16, 2019, Lilium presented its air taxi prototype. The all-electric powered jet is supposed have a range of 300 kilometres, which it can cover in 60 minutes without CO2 emissions. On March 11th, 2019, Airbus presented its CityAirbus. Events like these show that air taxis are not just a fantasy from the far future.

Manned or unmanned?

There are two scenarios for the market entry of air taxis: either manned, i.e. controlled by a trained pilot; or unmanned, i.e. remote-controlled or even autonomously flying. As a matter of course, the legal requirements differ, depending on the stage.

This article focuses on the legal requirements for the operation of manned air taxis.

What’s the legal framework?

The operation of manned air taxis is subject to a complex regulatory regime. Before September 2018, there was no legal framework for the operation of air taxis at all. Only the operation of manned air taxis could have been subject to the legal requirements which applied to passenger aircraft in general. Those legal requirements were set out by EU-regulation 216/2008.

Then EU-regulation 2018/1139 came into force on September 11th. 2018. It’s the EU-regulation on common rules in the field of civil aviation. Although, it primarily focuses on harmonising the legal framework for the operation of drones, it also establishes a legal framework for the operation of manned air taxis. Nonetheless, many other EU-regulations apply as well.

What are the legal requirements?

The basic requirements for the operation of manned air taxis are:

  • an operating licence, which requires an air operator certificate,
  • a type certificate and
  • possibly an airline permit.

Operating license

The operating licence entitles its holder to provide air services. The prerequisites for obtaining such an operating licence are set out in EU-regulation 1008/2008. Among others, companies must hold a valid air operator certificate.

Air operator certificate

An air operator certificate certifies that the aircraft operator possesses the professional aptitude and organisation to ensure the safety of its operation. Among others, EU-regulation 965/2012 contains the requirements which must be complied with in order to obtain an air operator certificate.

In order to obtain an air operator certificate, air operators must provide proof of their initial airworthiness by way of a certificate of airworthiness. Additionally, they must prove themselves as a continuing airworthiness management organisation.

Type certificate

As a matter of course, companies building aircrafts must meet certain requirements. According to EU-regulation 2018/1139, the design of products is subject to certification.

The type certificate provides proof of the operational safety and flight capability of the aircraft subject to type certification. This procedure guarantees that only airworthy aircrafts go into series production.

Airline permit

In many member states such as Germany, aircraft operators require a special permit for scheduled airline traffic.

In this context, “scheduled” is decisive for the qualification as airline traffic. “Scheduled” presupposes that departure and arrival times for periodically recurring flights are fixed in advance and published in a flight schedule.

Most concepts of air taxi manufacturers, however, currently provide for an on-demand approach. This on-demand approach does not follow any fixed departure or arrival times. Rather, passengers can book their flight via an app whenever they need it. As a result, air taxi operators would not require an airline permit.

Conclusion

As one can see, the regulatory regime for the operation of manned air taxis is quite complex. EU-regulation 2018/1139 provides a basic legal framework. But there are several other EU-regulations which have to be taken into account as well. Also, as of September 2018, stipulating detailed rules for the operation of manned air taxis were not the main concern of the EU-legislator. As the development of air taxis progresses, this topic will surely be subject to more regulation in the future.