Merlin autonomous flight system on path to NZ certification

A Merlin test aircraft over New Zealand
Photo Credit: Merlin

Merlin, a developer of autonomous flight technology for fixed-wing aircraft, has announced that the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand has concluded its review of Merlin’s first stage of involvement (SOI 1).

The New Zealand aviation regulator has approved the Plan for Software Aspects of Certification (PSAC) for its autonomous flight system.

Pathway to certification


This milestone significantly reduces risk and puts the Merlin Pilot on a viable path to validation and certification.

In the CAA system, this is the first civil certification of software; the CAA’s four step certification process ensures safety-critical software achieves in-air operability.

The Merlin Pilot’s CAA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) is also on a validation pathway with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

After meticulous evaluation, Merlin is the only takeoff to touchdown advanced automation system to date to achieve SOI 1 status.

Development of flight control software


This step now greenlights the development of its flight control software and lays the groundwork for the Merlin Pilot to be the first advanced automation system validated by the FAA.

Today’s milestone comes just one year after Merlin’s initial PSCP was accepted in Q1 2022 underscoring the company’s industry-leading certification and regulatory cadence.

“We have been working hand-in-hand with the CAA and achieving the SOI 1 regulatory milestone allows us to rapidly, safely, and effectively integrate the Merlin Pilot into our skies, transforming the way goods and people move around the world.

SOI 1 is the critical step of this process and we’re proud to be the first to accomplish this stage of certification progress,” said Matthew George, co-founder and CEO, Merlin.

“We will continue to undergo rigorous evaluations by the CAA ensuring that we’re following the plans set forth in SOI 1, and we’re excited to responsibly bring the Merlin Pilot to certification.”

“We’re confident that with each SOI we achieve we will set a strong foundation for FAA validation of the CAA’s certification processes, delegations, and organizational approval system.”

A Merlin autonomous flight Cessna Caravan aircraft in flight.
Photo Credit: Merlin

Further flight testing


Going forward, Merlin will undergo further testing to evaluate the viability and safety of its software. Following a final, successful evaluation from the CAA, Merlin’s software will be considered DO-178C compliant.

The DO-178C, or Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification is the primary document by which global certification authorities approve all commercial software-based aerospace systems.

“Safety is our primary objective, and we’ve worked closely with the CAA to ensure this initial stage of involvement was conducted swiftly and thoroughly,” said Shaun Johnson, CEO, Merlin NZ.

“As the first advanced automation flight technology to achieve this level of approval, we’re thrilled to progress our software development work and get the Merlin Pilot into operational service.”

US trials


Last month, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded Merlin a $1 million contract to demonstrate an autonomous flight control system, in conjunction with a safety pilot.

The US trials are set to begin in the second quarter of 2023 with an aim of reaching underserved areas of Alaska to enable better access to supplies while reducing the significant safety risk to today’s pilots.

Merlin will use crewed aircraft augmented with the Merlin Pilot, its integrated hardware and software solution, to serve rural cargo destinations.

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