What’s next for former FAA drone executive Jay Merkle?
If your last gig was executive director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office, where do you go from there? Jay Merkle just revealed his next role: senior director of regulatory affairs at Supernal.
Supernal is a U.S.-based mobility service provider associated with Hyundai. Based in X, it’s building an Advanced Air Mobility eVTOL vehicle that could be accessible to the masses. The company is a subsidiary of South Korea-based Hyundai Motor Group, which could give it a leg up given the company’s existing automotive manufacturing heritage.
In his new role, Merkle will help develop an integrated regulatory and policy framework to support AAM operations globally.
“My three decades at the FAA were focused on making our airspace more efficient, adaptable and robust – all of which are qualities that will be even more important with the introduction of a new class of aircraft,” Merkle said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to collaborating closely with Supernal’s policy, legal, compliance and engineering teams to provide a total solution for AAM that delivers new levels of mobility while maintaining uncompromising safety standards.”
Merkle, who previously spent 30 years at the Federal Aviation Administration, should seemingly be able to help Supernal integrate AAM into existing transportation networks and airspace. He officially became the new head of UAS Integration at the end of 2018, following up a role as the FAA’s Deputy Vice President for the FAA Air Traffic Organization’s Program Management Office. In that position, he was involved with the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) program, which allows drone operators to use an interface (designed by FAA-selected private companies) to request approval to fly in restricted airspace.
His time heading up the FAA’s drone office included leading the safe integration of drones into the National Airspace System. He oversaw the creation of the Knowledge Test for Recreational Flyers, which he specifically said was intended to be “a fun, enjoyable format instead of a restrictive, dull format.” He was co-chair of the BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee, was created to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations.
Jay Merkle has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in industrial engineering and operations research from Virginia Tech.
And Jay Merkle isn’t the only notable name over at Supernal. Other FAA veterans who now work for Supernal include Mike Whitaker. And the Supernal policy and regulations team is led by a super notable name in the drone industry, Diana Marina Cooper, who previously came from a four-year career at drone and UAV remote sensing company PrecisionHawk.
Hyundai Motor Group created Supernal in 2021. It plans to begin certification with U.S. regulatory agencies in 2024, and from there launch its first commercial flight in 2028. If successful, it says it intends to scale operations and grow bigger throughout the 2030s. Supernal is on a hiring tear, with more than 70 roles open within the United States.
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