The CEOs of Wing, BETA and Joby testified before the US House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure’s Aviation subcommittee on FY24 FAA Reauthorization: Harnessing the Evolution of Flight to Deliver for the American People. Group Editor Marty Kauchak monitored the proceedings.
Congressional hearings continue with the House Aviation Subcommittee taking its turn to gain insights from industry and association executives. Three of the industry leaders providing in-depth insights on future-leaning aviation technologies and systems included:
- Adam Woodworth, Chief Executive Officer, Wing;
- Kyle Clark, Chief Executive Officer, BETA Technologies; and
- JoeBen Bevirt, Chief Executive Officer, Joby Aviation
Government Thwarting Innovation?
Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), chairing the hearing’s proceedings, provided attention-getting opening remarks on the impediments to current and future aviation innovation in the US. Noting diverse, emerging products such as drones, UASs, urban air mobility taxis and others are appearing, or are ready to emerge in the US airspace, he opined, these systems and their underpinning technologies threaten “to be thwarted because of the inability of government to move forward.”
In particular, Graves cited existing “significant obstacles or hurdles as a result of the lack of predictability and certainty in the regulatory process of the FAA, and added, “The FAA’s inability to make quick and sound decisions, and stick by those decisions, has resulted in a lack of clarity for new entrants in the market. After over five years of trying, the FAA has succeeded in certifying a grand total of one drone.”
Adam Woodworth, Chief Executive Officer, Wing, provided a bit more context on the need for more definitive and proactive FAA guidance and direction to advance the burgeoning AAM revolution. Asked by Rep, Mike Collins (R-Georgia) how the FAA is hampering the integration of new aircraft models into the national airspace, the executive likened the current state of affairs to “being a student trying to take a test and we don’t know what the subject is. It’s the lack of predictable nature of it hampering the industry. Anything this committee can do to make the process more predictable and pragmatic would be super helpful.”
BETA Touts Tech Milestones
Other trends and topics emerged during the hearing. One OEM cited its quick pace of activities to bring their products into commercial service, the migration of lessons learned between the commercial and defense markets and the necessity for a whole-of-government approach to AAM sector growth in the US. These and other topics from this hearing have major implications for emerging training enterprises in the commercial and defense markets.
BETA Technologies has been flying electric aircraft for more than five years, and in that time has reached a number of technical milestones. Kyle Clark, BETA’s CEO, told the hearing during his prepared remarks that his company has two full-scale pre-production aircraft that it flies nearly every day, logging more than 22,000 miles on their fixed-wing airplane to date. He added, “Last year, we completed a successful hover campaign on our current eVTOL pre-production aircraft, and test pilots from the FAA, US Air Force, and US Army have flown our fixed-wing airplane.”
At the same time, BETA is, as are other sector OEMs, reporting an increasing and diverse order ledger, with firm orders from Bristow, UPS, United Therapeutics, and BLADE, among others. While the US DoD continues to remain in the research, test, development and experimentation phase of acquisition , the CEO emphasized “the first crewed flight of an Agility Prime electric aircraft was in BETA’s fixed-wing prototype in March 2022, a milestone for the program and for the AAM industry. It was another proof point that electric aviation is real and it’s here.”
Beyond DoD, Clark asserted the success of the AAM industry requires cooperation from all levels of government. He continued, “With all relevant parties working together, AAM will be best positioned for seamless integration into our communities. BETA applauds enactment of the Advanced Air Mobility Coordination and Leadership Act (Public Law 117-203) https:// www.halldale.com/articles/20514-aam-emerges-as-leading-us-policy-priority, which will ensure efforts to integrate new technologies into the aviation system are coordinated across the government.”
Of interest, he also noted important first steps have been taken, including the FAA’s establishment of the type certification basis and its work to develop a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) for pilot training and operating rules for eVTOLs, but emphasized “although there has been progress made with the SFAR there hasn’t been absolute clarity to the point where we can work with our customers and advance that discussion.”
Implicit Training Challenges
JoeBen Bevirt, CEO, Joby Aviation provided another datum point for subcommittee members on the design and capability of his team’s nascent aircraft, noting his team’s primary focus “is the development and certification of our piloted, all-electric aircraft, designed to transport up to four passengers at speeds of up to 200 mph, with zero operating emissions and low noise, which we intend to operate as part of an aerial ridesharing service.”
In a message that should resonate well with emerging eVTOL training enterprise members as they shape their pilot training programs, the CEO asserted, “it is critical that eVTOL aircraft can operate out of all forms of aviation infrastructure – including airports and heliports – as well as permit new sites to support industry growth. If eVTOL is unable to use existing aviation infrastructure, it will drastically impact our nation’s ability to lead in the future of flight since it will require all new infrastructure to be permitted for operations to begin.”
In another development, Bevirt’s remarks conveyed, “We’re laying the groundwork for a pilot academy that will radically reduce the economic cost of becoming a commercial pilot and lower the barrier to entry. As this committee considers FAA Reauthorization, we kindly request policies that broaden access to aviation careers, such as the expansion of the Aviation Workforce Development Grant, decrease the cost of flight training, fund apprenticeship programs, and explore new technologies, such as the use of virtual reality for flight training.”
The entire hearing of the US House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure’s Aviation subcommittee may be viewed below.