Is the FAA VTOL Parts 23 and 21.17(b) Certification Debate Counterproductive Noise?

Michael DeKort
4 min readSep 18, 2022

Recently the FAA changed course and determined VTOL aircraft would be certified under a yet to be written certification process under Part 21.17(b) Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Rotorcraft for special classes of aircraft rather than under Part 23 for Airworthiness Standards: Normal, Utility, Acrobatic and Commuter Airplanes. While there are some legitimate issues with this, overall, this seems to be a lot of time wasting and likely tragedy inducing noise.

In the end, it seems to me, the meat of the certification process will be the same regardless of under what heading it lives? If those important details existed, even in a draft, from either the industry or the FAA, I would have far more sympathy for the issues folks voice and the mechanics of how this is done. But, it doesn’t. As a matter for fact the Leonardo AW609 has been languishing in certification limbo for over 7 years. And if the industry is really that perturbed by the delay, where is their document draft? They doth protest too much. Possibly to both delay the certification and make it look like they want to due their due diligence? Why? To keep the hype and money flowing, build false public trust and avoid failing that certification. If they offered a certification process that degraded safety, they would be done. On the other side, if they offered one that was legitimate, they would likely fail and be done. (There are other concerns like associated pilot training and something like section 21.17(b) not existing worldwide I will address below.)

So how would I solve this?

· Get started on the core details independent of document headings. Given the worldwide impact of this I think that should be a single world government and industry body that handles the core common parts. Maybe the UN? As with other issues I mention in my article below, there are simply too many world and standards bodies working on this. All that does is dilute the talent pool and delay or doom the efforts, especially smaller eVTOL makers ability to support all of them.

· With regard to what heading this certification data would live under. It seems to me VTOLs are different enough and likely will be ubiquitous enough to warrant their own category? Not something originally designed for blimps etc as Part 21.17(b) was. Because everything is such a mess and so delayed, maybe the hopefully small delay added to do this to replace what is possibly a band-aid, would be the best long-term option? Now having said that, it could open yet another Pandora’s box and not be value added. Given that is seems to me it should go under Part 21.17(b). Why? As I understand it Part 23 was only for winged aircraft. Others would have to go to Part 21.17(b) anyway. As I understand it the reason for this is to accelerate the winged certification process, especially because it has an associated pilot certification process, where Part 21.17(b) does not. And apparently other countries do not have a Part 21.17(b) like category, so they would ignore one from the US? So, they would ignore one from the US? This system cannot be that ridiculous, can it? Beyond that, taking the Part 23 route sure seems unfair to the folks making VTOLs without wings? So much so, might they not have a reason to consider an unfair trade practice lawsuit? Which would tie everyone up for possibly longer than it would take to just fix this right? In the end though, hopefully there are enough experienced and professional people, who are funded by their citizens to act in their best interest, who can get on Zoom and fix all of this?

I would like to hear from the industry on this, especially since I do not come from the aircraft manufacturing world. Particularly, the Vertical Flight Society folks. Who support the Part 23 process. (I would really like to know if they represent the non-winged VTOL makers and if they do, how that relationship is going.)

For reference here is a Vertical Flight Society article on all of this

Other articles on this topic and my other industry concerns

New FAA Certification Chief’s Words and Intentions Send Up Serious Red Flags

Urban Air Mobility — Four Paths to Disaster

My name is Michael DeKort — I am Navy veteran (ASW C4ISR) and a former system engineer, engineering, and program manager for Lockheed Martin. I worked in aircraft simulation, the software engineering manager for all of NORAD, a software project manager on an Aegis Weapon System baseline, and a C4ISR systems engineer for DoD/DHS and the US State Department (counterterrorism). And a Senior Advisory Technical Project Manager for FTI to the Army AI Task Force at CMU NREC (National Robotics Engineering Center)

Autonomous Industry Participation — Air and Ground

- Founder SAE On-Road Autonomous Driving Simulation Task Force

- Member SAE ORAD Verification and Validation Task Force

- Member UNECE WP.29 SG2 Virtual Testing

- Stakeholder USDOT VOICES (Virtual Open Innovation Collaborative Environment for Safety)

- Member SAE G-35, Modeling, Simulation, Training for Emerging AV Tech

- Member SAE G-34 / EUROCAE WG-114 Artificial Intelligence in Aviation

- Member Teleoperation Consortium

- Member CIVATAglobal — Civic Air Transport Association

- Stakeholder for UL4600 — Creating AV Safety Guidelines

- Member of the IEEE Artificial Intelligence & Autonomous Systems Policy Committee

SAE Autonomous Vehicle Engineering magazine editor calling me “prescient” regarding my position on Tesla and the overall driverless vehicle industry’s untenable development and testing approach — (Page 2)

Presented the IEEE Barus Ethics Award for Post 9/11 DoD/DHS Whistleblowing Efforts



Michael DeKort

Non-Tribal Truth Seeker-IEEE Barus Ethics Award/9–11 Whistleblower-Aerospace/DoD Systems Engineer/Member SAE Autonomy and eVTOL development V&V & Simulation