The below article from Consumer Affairs heralds a new participant in the National Air Space—flying cars. As noted before, this introduction of another disruptive technology will test the FAA.
By statute and in the opinion of the traveling public, the FAA’s primary mission is AVIATION SAFETY. One of the attributes, which that focus necessarily engenders, is a conservative approach to risk. The principles of SMS have introduced to the agency staff an increased comfort with dealing with the grays between black and white of the safety spectrum and that discipline has added a precision to quantification of the whiter shade of pale (apologies to Procol Harum).
This lean towards caution does not create a culture comfortable with change. Recent FAA regulatory history demonstrates the difficulty of an organization, which MUST regulate by rules which gestate for as many as five years, dealing with technology which must advance at a different speed. The tale of the UAS and the FAA explains, perhaps implicitly, this dynamic.
The FAA has a regulatory system which has historically worked well for safety. For traditional air operations there are seines—pilots’ licenses, aircraft certification, aircraft registration, airports (points of take-off and landing) and the ATC—which keep track of the people and equipment which fly. UAS vehicles did not fit easily into those surveillance “channels,” but the small drones, by virtue of their 55# upper limit and speed restrictions, pose lesser damage risk.
With flying cars, one presumes that a predicate to operating the vehicle in the air will be licensing. Registration is already a normal attribute of an automobile. The Type and Production certification aspects are already being addressed.
The most difficult question facing the airmobile is where it MAY take off and land. Theoretically these “airphibious” craft could use a highway to enter the airspace and return. Aside from the risks to the land vehicles, when and how the Plane announces its entry to the NAS require very important and difficult safety risk analyses.
As with UAS operations, the best solution to this seminal issue may be technology. The means of communicating precise position, point of departure/arrival, flight plan, etc. may be available or soon-to-be developed technology. The initial set of airmobile regulations would be better written if this critical link is known and even better in place.
That observation brings the focus back to the dissonance between aviation safety rule development and technology acceleration. IT WOULD BE EXTREMELY SMART FOR THIS NASCENT INDUSTRY TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE AND TO CREATE AN INDEPENDENT TASK FORCE TO DRAFT A SET OF PROPOSED RULES WITH WHICH THE FAA WILL BE COMFORTABLE.