We are seriously considering investing in Zapata Flyboard Air personal hovercraft. We will use it on the east coast of USA Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey. The Flyboard Air was designed to fit FAA guidelines for ultralight aircraft.

However this article covers how this vehicle has been banned from flight in France where Zapata is based. While aviation regulations have always been more stringent in Europe, we don't want to risk our investment. Would there be any additional regulations for this type of personal hovercraft over and above those already applicable to ultralight aircraft?

Would federal regulations override state and local laws that are bound to come? How about Homeland security and privacy concerns?

  • $\begingroup$ It's jet powered, and multi-engine at that! This may require a type rating and unique maintenance requirements which may open it up to a few more regulations. If the idea is that you're investing in a recreational toy builder (like a jet ski or dirtbike company) you might be disappointed. A flyboard customer may need to take mandatory training (expensive) and adhere to maintenance requirements to stay legal. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jul 5 '17 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @acpilot 103.7(b) says that ultralights are exempt from all pilot certification requirements $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 5 '17 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Huh. Ok. Rock-n-roll!! $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jul 5 '17 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ Presumably the regulations could be changed if this device became popular and presented new problems, just as drone regulations have changed over the past few years. I don't know how anyone here could advise you on what actions the government might take in the future if they decide to make new rules. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Jul 6 '17 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ That is one courageous dude! $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Jul 6 '17 at 6:37

If the Flyboard Air meets the definition of an ultralight from 14 CFR 103.1 then only part 103 regulations would apply. 103.7 says that ultralights are exempt from airworthiness, registration and pilot certification requirements, and 91.1(e) says that general flight regulations don't apply to ultralights.

Based on the specifications on Zapata's website, there are two models: the Flyboard Air EXP and the Flyboard Air UL. The EXP doesn't meet the part 103 requirements (its fuel load and top speed are too high) but Zapata says the UL was designed to comply with part 103 and the quoted specifications do seem to be OK.

Assuming that you're fine with the UL model there are still two points in part 103 that might be an issue for you. First, the stall speed requirement in (e)(4):

(4) Has a power-off stall speed which does not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed.

I don't know how the FAA would define a "stall" for a Flyboard and their detailed guidance on part 103 (dated, but seems to be still current) doesn't clarify it. It does say that a "recognized technical standards committee" can confirm that the requirement has been met, but I don't know who that means. You might want to ask Zapata how the UL complies with this requirement (and how they documented it).

Second, you can't use an ultralight in some commercial activities. The FAA document lists activities that are allowed (e.g. airshow participation) and others that aren't (e.g. aerial advertising). If you plan to use it only for private recreation then that doesn't matter, of course.

Finally, note that the FAA's document says that if you "encounter" an FAA field inspector for any reason it's up to you to prove that the ultralight meets the definition in 103.1. If you can't, they'll consider it as an aircraft for compliance/enforcement purposes. Before making your investment, I'd make sure that you're confident you can prove it really is a part 103 ultralight. If you aren't sure that you have the right information to do that, you could contact your local FSDO and ask them to review whatever you have and tell you if they would be satisfied.

(This answer is only about federal aviation regulations. If the Flyboard causes a lot of noise as mins mentioned, or disturbs people or the environment in some other way then there could be non-aviation, state or local laws that would apply.)

  • $\begingroup$ On the stall speed: this craft can hover, like a helicopter can. Is the regulation you use appliccable to ultralight helicopters as well? $\endgroup$ – Koyovis Jul 6 '17 at 1:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Koyovis AFAIK, if something meets the definition in 103.1 it's an ultralight. There are no separate regulations for ultralight aircraft/helicopters/powered paragliders/whatever. (Part 103 helicopters apparently exist, by the way.) For all I know the stall speed thing is a non-issue, I just mentioned it because it's the only 103.1 requirement that isn't addressed in the information from Zapata. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 6 '17 at 12:10

One slight problem... Zapata says the Flyboard carries 6.8 gallons of fuel. Max for part 103 is 5 gallons.

Reducing fuel storage to 5 gallons will give you maybe 8 minutes of flight time - that's a thirsty puppy.

You might want to look at a Mosquito ultralight helicopter - it has a 1 hour flight time and is fully part 103 compliant. Plus, if it loses power, you have a decent chance of auto'ing down in one piece. If that thing loses power, you're going to have a very bad day.

  • $\begingroup$ It's correct that the Flyboard Air EXP carries more than 5 gallons, but the Flyboard Air UL carries 4.83 in order to comply with part 103. That reduces flight time from 10 to 6 minutes so I'd say they're both thirsty puppies! $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 6 '17 at 20:49

It's likely that because it's controlled in a manner which is very different from the aircraft contemplated by the existing rules, that it would fall into a new category.

Consider the separate category for powered lift (harriers, etc).

Legislation always lags behind innovation, and this has "new rules" written all over it.

Also, please consider the above post from a due diligence perspective, which is to be conservative with risks (when evaluating, err on the side of "this will fail")


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