Vertiport/Skystop Policy — Where we are at currently?
Wassaf Akhtar | 03/12/2021
Adaptation of Heliport Requirements
Based on data gathered from the community, the current regulatory environment for heliports manifests two gaps related to vertiport/skystop construction and operation.
1) The FAA does not currently have a standard to certify a heliport or a vertiport, and currently engaged in heliport design guidance through the issuance of FAA Advisory Circular AC150/5390C. Under current federal regulatory guidance, the FAA has no legal authority to enforce any of the guidance or standards in the advisory circular for “PrivateUse” heliports, which make up 99% of the 5,918 heliports on file with the FAA. Which is acceptable for mild charter operations, however the high tempo of operations combined with the anticipated passenger demand and additional on-vertiport infrastructure will likely necessitate guidance, oversight, or certification more robust than is currently provided by FAA.
2) The FAA Advisory Circular does not clarify if the rules applying to heliports apply to vertiports as well. While heliports and vertiports may, in practice, be used by similar aircraft, this overall lack of clarification presents challenges to those intending to develop vertiports for the nascent UAM and AAM markets. This will not be able to be addressed until regulators have actionable performance data for each eVTOL concept intending to operate as it relates to supporting infrastructure.
Another gap that exists is determining a path to certification for UAM aircraft. FAA is in the initial stages of determining the appropriate part of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations in which to certify VTOL aircraft. Aircraft certification standards inform aircraft performance standards which in turn help determine vertiport development requirements. Uncertainty on what AAM aircraft will look like once certified has led vertiport designers to base their designs off the current heliport AC.
Development of vertiports may be curtailed by local regulators through zoning ordinances. Although there is no clear rule on how this applies to vertiports, and while zoning ordinances vary among different jurisdictions, it is foreseeable that zoning ordinances could also curtail the development of vertiports. This presents challenges that may include vertiport site selection, vertiport design, and limitations on commercial activity.
State and Local Policy Standardization
While there may be one recognized guideline for heliport design at the federal level in today’s environment, each state adopts and interprets this guidance differently creating a patchwork of regulatory models from state to state. This standardization of policy integration, or lack thereof in many cases, becomes even more challenging at the local level. To keep costs and time constraints within a manageable framework for future infrastructure development, state and local policy will need to be standardized in a way that has never been done in the past.
The consensus is that policy gaps stem primarily from regulatory uncertainty. Addressing these gaps requires collaboration between industry, the FAA, and state & local governments to either obtain clarification of the existing rules or the development of new rules for vertiports. We may have to have the following:
• Adaptation of Heliport Requirements: Regulatory clarification from FAA on what aspects of the heliport AC they intend to apply to vertiport regulation in the short-term, and either a vertiport AC (which FAA has indicated is under development) or vertiport-focused regulation in the longterm would provide certainty to developers.
• Aircraft Certification: A regulatory clarification and better determination of aircraft certification methodology for eVTOL aircraft will allow them to optimize their designs to meet anticipated federal safety requirements. This would then allow them to better assist vertiports by allowing them to provide vertiport developers with more information regarding aircraft specifications and vertiport needs.
• Local Zoning: At the local level, stakeholders should examine zoning regulations, building codes, fire codes, energy codes and conditional use permitting processes early on to organize any efforts to amend the zoning ordinances, codes and processes through community-based effort.
• State and Local Policy Standardization: State and local governments need to take a regulatory approach to AAM that involves development of AAM laws and regulations based on a “whole of metropolitan area” approach. This approach develops a consistent set of laws and regulations that go beyond traditional political barriers of cities and counties and encourages the development of laws and regulations that apply to metropolitan areas and enable consistency of vertiport regulation.