FAA Gives Exemption To Allow Flight Training In Velis Electro

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The FAA has allowed an exemption to light sport rules for the Textron/Pipistrel Velis Electro. The agency has permitted an exemption to 14 CFR Part 21.190, the special airworthiness certificate for light sport category aircraft, and that will pave the way to use it for flight training. The aircraft, which is type certified in Europe, was designed as a low-cost training platform and Textron, which bought Pipistrel in 2022, is focused on that market for the plane. The main exemption was allowing the use of the electric motor as power. Existing LSA rules require that they have reciprocating engines. The other exemptions allow students and instructors to log time in the plane. The exemption will be limited to 350 aircraft starting at serial number 150.

“This is a great day for flight training organizations and aspiring pilots,” said Kriya Shortt, CEO of Textron’s eAviation segment. “With this exemption, the cost-barrier to pursuing primary flight training can be substantially reduced. We are thankful to the FAA for its support in bringing more opportunities for electric aviation to the United States.” Textron has not announced any deals with flight schools but Pipistrel President Gabriel Massey hinted that’s coming. “We are looking forward to seeing more pilots take to the skies and experience their first flight in the Velis Electro,” he said.

With its relatively short endurance of about an hour, the Velis Electro is suited to training missions in the immediate airport environment and it addresses a few issues besides cost. One of the big knocks on flight schools is the constant drone pattern work, especially the frequent takeoffs. “The aircraft is quiet, producing noise levels of only 60 decibels, low cost and user-friendly, making it an ideal solution for flight training with zero carbon emissions,” a company news release says. For longer lessons and those teaching engine management skills, students will fly in conventional trainers.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

43 COMMENTS

  1. ” the Velis Electro is suited to training missions in the immediate airport environment ”

    I disagree. The airport environment is the primary place where engine management drills are learned. Good luck graduating and never learning takeoff leaning techniques or rapid engine emergency drills. Anyone who learns in a simulator or a pure electric trainer will be less prepared for real world flying.

      • Point was that “new pilots” have never rebuilt a carburetor, played with magnetos, or adjusted mixtures on the cars they own. They have to learn these arcane things from the get go . If they cannot do the emergency engine drill (an understand the why’s of each step) as second nature; then, as i said, they will be less prepared for real world flying. Just a thought. Thanks!

    • Those procedures are appropriate to piston engines. Many trainees today are headed for airline careers and may never operate a piston engine in their lives. No point teaching them a bunch of arcane procedures that are only relevant to a dying technology – and that’s not a hit at gas-powered engines, just a nod to the fact that light GA is dying: it has low utility in most places, it’s not reliable as transportation, it takes far too much training to do safely, and it’s far, far too expensive for most people.

      • The aviation world runs on liquid fueled combustion engines.
        Unless you know fuel, spark, and how to troubleshoot those systems, you’re as lost as pilots when the GPS magenta line goes away.

        • The aviation world runs on gas turbines with FADEC. I’d be lost as heck, if I had to troubleshoot one of those. Knowing how to use carb heat wouldn’t help a bit.

  2. It’s unfortunate that the FAA was so quick to approve this aerial chemistry set but makes it so hard for cost effective legitimate improvements regarding proper powerplants. EFI, electronic ignition, VVT, and computer control FADEC all come to mind.

    • I’m with you, too. It’s amazing how flexible our inflexible (because safety, you know) rules become when the right cause du jour requires it. Oh, and I’ll believe the training cost reduction when I see it…

    • 100% – considering the carbon footprint of building infrastructure, reliance on non-renewable energy sources for electricity generation, the “zero carbon emission” is closer to be a myth than reality. It’s marketing! It’s only zero carbon emission when we close our eyes on everything else and all we see is that snapshot in time between Velis Electro start and stop!

      Advancements in engine technology, similar to those seen in the automotive industry, could have significantly lowered the environmental impact if they had been adapted and approved by now!

    • You can do any of those things fairly easily under LSA. See what Rotax is doing. And this is apparently going under LSA.

    • The problem, William, is that both Lycoming and Continental, as well as some of the airframe builders have tried updating things with FADEC, different engines and other improvements in the past. All have failed, mostly due to indifference or resistance from the pilot public. Paul Bertorelli did a few really good videos about that very subject. If you haven’t watched them, I recommend them to you. The FAA certainly is no help on such improvements, but the main stumbling block seems to be us.

  3. Also, it is not cost effective. I researched this and addressed it in an earlier thread.

    IIRC the electric version was more than $100,000 more expensive than the more versatile Rotax powered version, and had significant lifetime limit on the battery pack that added up to tens of thousands of dollars more than the fuel that would have been consumed in the Rotax. The motor is also time limited. I don’t recall the time but it was remarkably short.

    Also there is the cost of the electricity, the charging infrastructure which for the most part does not exist, and the near total inability to take the plane cross country. VFR endurance is about 1/2 hour you are not leaving the pattern, or even doing many circuits. Likely no resale value or residual worth in the non training environment.

    As far as noise goes it would be a little quieter than the Rotax, but not significantly. Most of the noise is from the prop, and little Rotaxes are pretty quiet. Because the decibel scale is logarithmic, the noise delta is appreciably smaller.

  4. Pipistrel makes some of the nicest small aircraft in the world and the build quality puts Diamond and Cirrus to shame. Thank goodness there is still some innovation in our antiquated sport.

    Self-launching motorgliders are another great application for electric propulsion. In fact, they work so well that a majority of new motor gliders are electric!

    Most of the naysayers are flying around with NACA airfoils (designed in the 1920’s) and carburetors (not used in cars for more than 30 years). Who is going to teach these fossils how to operate a modern airplane?

    • I agree 100% with electric being used for self-launching motor gliders. It makes sense for this particular case. Very short endurance needed from the motor, and able to land safely without power.

      As far as NACA and carburetors go, you’d be blessed to be in my Maule in the Idaho backcountry trusting your life to this time proven technology.

      Also reference my prior post stating that the FAA is what has held back EFI, FADEC, and EI from GA. THIS is what they should have fast tracked, not the e-plane.

      • This waiver is for LSA.

        Under LSA, EFI and EI are already common – take a look at the recent Rotaxes. FADEC, not there yet, I think, but I don’t think FAA has anything to do with that.

  5. I feel this to be a political decision rather than one based upon today’s operational environment.
    As ‘William’ points out there exist some very real drawbacks.
    On the other hand as we approach single pilot commercial operations and even pilotless commercial aircraft this may well be adequate to prepare pilots of the future.
    However if the object of pilot training is to create aviators then they should have a solid foundation in today’s aircraft, even yesterday’s, before transitioning.
    Besides, until batteries are made that produce a quantum leap in endurance, electric aviation
    will be a niche activity.

  6. The Velis is super training aircraft, but it covers only a part of the basic training.
    I trained on the Velis in the last 3 years 17 students from 0 to the first solo.
    They were able to fly in a next step a tail dragger (Piper J3C) faster than an average pilot who logged 100 hrs. on C152 or similar. Differens training to other aircraft types went fast as well.
    Yes, the aircraft has a lot things to complain, but with its sensitive controls do the students develop a fine an accurate basic controlling of an aircraft right at the begin.
    Concluding a above: The Velis is an efficient low noise training tool for the basic flight training to learnt the control an aircraft from take-off to landing.

    A further technical enhancement to a 3 hrs. flight time is an urgent and big wish to Cessna.
    Remove one battery, install fluid cells and a 4 Gallon methanol tank, similar as installed in a e-Smart car in Munic.

    • I must compliment you on your training curricula! Piper J3 as an obligatory ‘next step’ is not one that is common to the ’30 degrees of either side of straight and level’ flight schools currently in the US.
      My son is working for his LSA ticket in Leipzig and I am pleased with the German approach to aviation.
      And ‘yes’ for methanol. We had ‘water injection’ actually water and methanol in the DC-3s I flew but I never had the need to use it. Actually I think it was ‘wired-off’.

    • I agree that the Rotax powered plane would be an excellent trainer, offering all of these advantages with the significant advantages of dramatically longer range, dramatically lower cost of acquisition and operation, and dramatic improvement in versatility. The control sensitivity (if that is indeed an advantage) is not predicated on choice of powerplant.

  7. There is no other type of engine that fares so well for repeated take-off and landing than electric motors, and Pipistrel’s aircraft is designed with this in mind. IC engines fare badly from repeated touch and go, as Juan Browne recently pointed out after another tragic accident.

    For any kind of range, with today’s batteries, it is really not a good solution, as so much of the airframe’s weight is the propulsive parts, that is batteries, electronics, and the motor(s).

    If you use an electric system for boosting take-off capability, and nothing more, electric is viable, and a possible way forward, using electrics for take-off and IC engines for endurance.

  8. I should have added: There is no way of discarding batteries in case of an emergency landing, as the airframe will weigh just as much ‘juiced up’ as when the batteries are empty.

  9. The strange thing about rules, laws and regulations is that there is no allowance for common sense. Government will never learn that you cannot regulate insanity, chaos or imperfection. They just can’t change or get rid of bad laws as if the regulation was perfect, so they just say “exempt” as if ‘we will excuse you in advance.’ Why is it so hard to fly by principals that give imperfect people a chance to do the right thing at the right time? They could call it the “Hudson River Principal!”

  10. Tandem skydiving operated for many years with an exemption from Part 105 before it formally became 105.45. Not a fan of electrics but if it aids pilot training then that’s ok in my book.

  11. Reading the comments, which are mostly negative, makes me wonder if there were similar feelings when the horseless carriage came on the scene.

    • For the purposes of the automobile, the internal combustion engine was an improvement over the existing technology. The battery powered e-plane is not for the reasons discussed above. Also, the horse is still cherished by millions of people and always will be, even if it is towed to the trail by a diesel pickup.

  12. Just curious if there are government subsidies for purchasing these aircraft as there are for electric cars.

    • Lord, please forbid. Billions of tax dollars being spent to help rich people virtue signal in their Teslas has been bad enough.

  13. the thing missing in all these comments is the issue of battery development – proceeding at pace. OK is 90mins now soon to be 2 1/2 hrs and once it gets beyond 3hrs gives similar endurance to most light aircraft and by that time avgas will on its last gasp. Given charging infrastrucure its the future of light avaiation – if there is one!

    • Landing and take offs will consume much of the flight time training because those are most important to get right. And just like gas, that will eat up a lot of battery. Electric motors don’t lug down like gas, they just draw more current. That could cut the flight time down to 30min on the safe side. Grass runways too will add to the current draw. Considering more hours are needed for gas training, the use of electric in schools will be hard pressed to see a profit.

  14. Well, I have actually flown the airplane while in Europe, with an eye toward whether I could use it somehow for primary training. It is an interesting airplane and has some interesting characteristics, but I couldn’t figure out how I could make it benefit my organization. Here are some of my observations:

    1. Battery life is too short. I have no idea where they think it can be used for an hour but as soon as you go to full-power for T/O and climb, duration gets really short. My guess is that you will get maybe 3-4 touch-n-gos before you have to recharge. I took off, went to the practice area, did some basic airwork, e.g. stalls, steep turns, slow flight, and lazy eights, maybe 15m, and then returned to the airport for two circuits. I did one low-approach and one landing. (They charge a landing fee for each landing so I executed a go-around before we touched down.) By the time we were on downwind for the final landing, the instructor was getting antsy as the battery was getting pretty low. He was worried about not having enough juice for an aborted landing. I suspect their “1 hour” depends on much of that being in cruise where power requirement is rather low so it is going to be VERY marginal for pattern work.

    2. It is really a powered glider. It is able to make use of electric propulsion because it requires so so little power to sustain it. Now I fly gliders and so I had no trouble except for one thing: it has no spoilers. If you get the tiniest bit high or fast, you are going to overshoot big time. You have to be dead-nuts on energy state in order to be sure of putting the aircraft on the runway where you want. If you are operating out of a 5000′ runway, maybe. If you are operating out of a 2200′ grass strip as we were, you had better be able to nail speed and altitude EXACTLY. Not a problem for me but I have 13,000 hours in 105 different aircraft types. I adapt to a new aircraft quickly. I am not as sanguine about new CFIs and student pilots.

    So, from personal experience, I don’t see this being a particularly useful aircraft for school use. Where this aircraft makes sense in the US is for that person who has lost their medical and wants something to fly for 45 minutes early in the morning or in the evening, i.e. the person with a J3 cub who never goes anywhere. That is not a particularly large market. Maybe someone will figure out how to make this work for a flight school but my initial analysis is that it will be tough to do.

    • Even if it does have 1-hour capacity, what about 91.151? Brian’s experience suggests that after 30 minutes of flying they didn’t have enough for more than one more trip around the pattern, which doesn’t sound like the ability to “fly after that for at least 30 minutes.” So, we’re talking about flights of 20-30 minutes, which is hardly enough to accomplish any significant training, and then a lengthy charging time before the next flight. As others said, electric airplanes aren’t going to be of any significant utility until we make a quantum leap in battery capacity and charging technology.

  15. Small electric aircraft won’t progress much further than the current Electro-Alpha, with the current battery technology, not to also mention the charging infrastructure cost and recharging time.
    The current Li-ion battery has about 0.1 kWhr/ pound.
    Avgas has an equivalent of 1.9 kWhr / pound, which includes the 30% efficiency of ICE engines vs the 90+% efficiency of motors systems.
    SO…there is a 19:1 ratio in the energy capacity , and no current technology to improve the battery capacity by more than 10-20%.

  16. My 02 cents

    1) The University of Waterloo engineering department did controlled flyover noise testing. It is 10db quieter than a Cessna 172 at 1000 AGL. This is a huge when dealing with the airport haters.

    2) The Pipistrel Velis Electro should be thought of like the 2011 Nissan Leaf car which had a 75 mile range. It is a more of a technology demonstrator than a full up replacement for a Cessna 152. However it, like the original Leaf, will be developed into a viable alternative to the ICE competition

    3) Re the batteries. They current batteries have an energy density of 172kw/kg. This is about half of the energy density of a new Tesla battery. Some of the endurance restrictions are a result of a conservative design approach on both power and rated life. As field experience is gained I think you will see significant increases in battery capacity and life.

    4) The reductions in the per hour “fuel” costs and maintenance are substantial, and in the end I think you will see adoption of electric airplanes at flight school driven more by the economics, with the “green” part just being icing on the cake.

    5) The powerplant technology is comparable to an advanced single engine TP like the PC12NG with Master Caution and Warning lights, EICAS, automatic load shedding, and electronic power single level power control. The hardest part for students coming off this airplane and going to a Cessna or Piper will be mastering the 50 year leap backwards in technology to operate them

  17. The Tesla 3 battery pack is specified as 175 Whr/kg, or 0.08 Whr/ pound….worse than in my comment.
    Avgas has 1.9 Whr/pound after using the 30% efficiency of the ICE engine vs electric motor.

      • Yes, the individual 2170 cell is rated at 230 to 250wh/kg for the cells that I looked at. Tesla rates theirs at 300wh/kg, or 136wh/ pound.
        So, that’s 0.136 kWhr/pound. Still 1/14th that of avgas.!

        The Tesla battery has about a thousand of the cells to make it’s car battery. The packaging, wiring, temp sensors and cooling tubing add a lot of weight.

        • A Velis Electro with a 300 Whr/kg battery would have a 1:45 hr endurance. That starts to make it a lot more viable considering the average flying lesson is 1 hour. That hour flight will use less than $2 worth of electricity…..

  18. We were the first US operator of the Velis and have been involved with the early flight test and evaluation by the FAA researchers. This announcement surprises me. The aircraft is well built and surprisingly good for a first shot at the technology BUT to say that it’s ready for a flight training mission is counter to ALL of our accumulated experience in the airframe. There are still too many “hidden” complications in the technology to release it into the wild. We have described it as an airplane for engineers or for connoisseurs of the tech, not the average operator. I doubt the fine folks at the FAA who participated in our program were involved with the crafting of this decision….

    • The article speaks of “paving the way” for flight training, but it also states that:

      “The main exemption was allowing the use of the electric motor as power. Existing LSA rules require that they have reciprocating engines.”

      Question: Should the FAA continue to ban electric power for LSA aircraft based upon its suitability for a particular mission (e.g., training)? And, if so, why?

      [I suspect that the original recip only rule was intended to exclude turbines.]

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