Standards for electric-powered aircraft could be submitted to the US Federal Aviaiton Authority (FAA) later this month, moving an emerging industry one step closer to joining aviation's mainstream.

ASTM International's light sport aircraft committee is expected to vote on the recently published F2840 standards for electric-powered aircraft, said Craig Willan, founder of Omega Research and principal author of the standards.

Following the ASTM process, the standards will be submitted formally to the FAA, with a final rule adding electrical aircraft in the LSA category by the end of 2012, Willan said.

The standards were developed after a small group of electric-powered aircraft enthusiasts decided they were necessary to move the still-nascent industry forward.

They asked: "How do we fill the skies with electric airplanes?" Willan said, adding: "You don't fill the skies in the experimental category."

A special committee set up by ASTM approved the draft standards last November, and finally published the proposed regulations in April.

But introducing aircraft powered by batteries or fuel cells instead of Avgas has created some challenges for regulators, which remain unresolved.

Perhaps the most important is how to judge the empty weight of a battery-powered aircraft. The LSA regulations limit such aircraft to an empty weight of 115kg (254lb). The unresolved question is whether batteries should be included within the empty weight, because the weight of Avgas is not.

For regulatory purposes, batteries could be considered "just a fuel with a really, really heavy fuel tank," Willan said.

The biggest safety concern addressed by the draft regulations is preventing the chance of an electrical spark that incapacitates the pilot, Willan said.

The FAA has so far been highly responsive to the ASTM standards-making effort, he said. The Fiscal 2012 budget request seeks funding to create a new office devoted to electric powered aircraft issues, he said.

Willan also announced the formation of a new organization to champion the community's policy and research interests. The Electric Aircraft Development Alliance, chaired by Erik Lindbergh, is planned to "nuture" the industry through 2015, and then disband.

"We need to get it going now," Lindbergh said, "because we're missing the boat."

Source: Flight International