The Federal Aviation Administration’s new funding law requires the agency to collaborate with the US Coast Guard (USCG) to define regulatory oversight of wing-in-ground-effect (WIGs) vehicles, a move welcomed by start-up developer Regent Craft.

Tucked in a law signed by President Joe Biden on 16 May, the requirement could help clear up a muddled regulatory picture concerning how the agencies intend to oversee a type of craft that fits in both regulators’ purview.

But regulatory certainty may not be around the corner, as the law gives the agencies two years to reach consensus.

Regent and other WIG developers, citing international standards and provisions in US law, insist their designs are maritime craft that should primarily be overseen by the USCG.

Regent Viceroy updated 2023 with 12 props now. Previous concept had eight props

Source: Regent Craft

A rendering of Regent Craft’s Viceroy wing-in-ground-effect craft, which the company has hoped to have in service in 2025

The players want to avoid being subject to the FAA’s stringent and expensive-to-meet certification standards, with some developers saying the FAA’s certification requirements make their projects economically infeasible.

WIGs are floating, winged vehicles that take-off from water and fly close to the surface, staying within “ground effect” – an aerodynamic regime characterised by increased lift and reduced drag.

The new FAA funding law requires the agency and USCG, within two years, to reach a memorandum of understanding defining each agency’s “specific roles, authorities, delineations of responsibilities, resources and commitments” related to WIG oversight.

The agreement must lay out procedures related to approvals, inspections and maintenance of WIGs, and related to pilot training and pilot certification.

Regent, perhaps the highest-profile WIG developer, sees the law as a step in the right direction.

“This language creates a framework for the FAA to provide technical expertise in support of the maritime certification pathway for wing-in-ground effect craft led by the US Coast Guard,” it says. “Importantly, the [memorandum of understanding] serves to avoid duplication of efforts, which enables a robust regulatory environment that ensures passenger and vessel safety under a single set of rules.”

Rhode Island-based Regent is initially developing a 12-passenger WIG called Viceroy. With 12 wing-mounted props driven by an electric system, Viceroy is to have range of 160nm (196km) and to fly just above the surface of the sea at speeds up to 160kt (296km/h). The company now says it expects the craft will enter service by “mid decade”, after having previously targeted service entry specifically in 2025.

Regent has insisted Viceroy is not an aircraft, but the FAA has not embraced that assertion. In 2023, the agency said it and the USCG “share regulatory responsibility for these type of aircraft, just as they do with seaplanes. The agencies are working together to address certification needs of this re-emerging industry”.

Asked on 22 May about its progress in that endeavour, the FAA says it “is committed to collaborating with the US Coast Guard on wing-in-ground-effect craft safety and is engaging with them to address certification needs of WIG vehicles”.

Regent tells FlightGlobal it “recently kicked off the design basis agreement process under the Coast Guard” for Viceroy, having attended a meeting at the USCG’s headquarters. It says a “subject matter expert from the FAA attended”.

Because the USCG lacks WIG-specific approval regulations, Regent is following an process using a design basis agreement – a document that describes design and fabrication details for the purpose of demonstrating compliance with USCG safety standards.

Unlike the FAA, the USCG does not issue type certificates for maritime vessels. Rather, it approves vessels for commercial operations under “certificates of inspection”, which confirm a vessel is structurally sound, meets technical standards and is properly maintained and equipped.

“We’ve also been working closely with the Coast Guard to develop a navigational safety risk assessment and identify waterways for sea trials,” Regent adds.

The company last year said it had “high confidence” that its WIGs will remain under maritime regulation.

Story updated on 23 May to include a comment from the FAA, to specify Regent’s latest in-service timeline and to note that Regent now expects Viceroy will have 12, not eight, propellers. The company’s previous conceptual images showed the craft with eight propellers.