The FAA is on track to develop the airworthiness standards and certification requirements necessary to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS) by its targeted goal of 2015, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Thursday.
ScanEagle, the first UAS to perform a commercial flight within the NAS.
The agency released its UAS Integration Roadmap, produced in collaboration with the UAS Integration Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), ahead of the FAA chief’s appearance at a UAS forum presented by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). Huerta said the FAA estimates more than 7,500 small UAS will be flying within the NAS over the next five years and outlined the challenges the industry faces getting those aircraft into the world’s most complex airspace for civil and commercial applications.
“There are operational issues that we need to address, such as pilot training,” said Huerta. “We need to make sure that unmanned aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft, and that they operate safely even if they lose link to their pilots. That is why developing more test data is so important.”
Congress has required the agency to select six testing sites where operators will collect data on how these aircraft behave within civil airspace. On Thursday, the FAA released its UAS Integration Roadmap, which includes privacy regulations that operators will have to abide by at these testing sites; operators will have to comply with all federal, state and local privacy laws that are applicable to the sites.
There have been a total of 25 proposals submitted to the FAA representing 26 different states, and the agency is considering geographical and climatic implications for the selection, though the administrator gave no timetable as to when the testing sites will be finalized, only saying that the agency’s UAS Integration Office would make its selection by the end of the year.
The testing sites operators will be required to develop privacy plans, put them on public display and disclose to the public how they intend to use any data collected from flight-testing of aircraft that collect data through surveillance.
One of the technological barriers for operators creating new unmanned aircraft for commercial applications is the development of sense and avoid technologies that include a plan for what will happen if the pilots controlling these aircraft from a ground control station lose their data links. Within its roadmap released Thursday, the FAA acknowledged some potential commercial uses of unmanned aircraft, which include aerial photography, air cargo transportation, communications and broadcast. Also included were news and sporting event coverage, and infrastructure monitoring of power facilities, ports and pipelines among other possible uses.
In the short term, the FAA is focused on developing regulations that apply to smaller UAS that weigh less than 55 pounds and are not operated beyond the line of sight of a ground control station. That means it is not likely that immediately after the agency opens the airspace to UAS in 2015, there will not be widespread use of larger UAS that perform more complex operations described in the FAA’s roadmap to integration, such as cargo transportation or infrastructure monitoring that occurs beyond the line of sight of the ground-based operator.
These aircraft will also need to be able to sense and avoid other aircraft within the NAS. Earlier this year, the All Weather Sense and Avoid System (AWSAS) developed by R3 Engineering (R3E) of Lusby, Md., used Automatic Surveillance Data-Broadcast (ADS-B) technology to steer a Navy TigerShark UAS away from another TigerShark during a flight demonstration at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona without operator intervention.
That type of technology will need to be transferred to the commercial and civil use arena, once FAA develops certification standards for more complex UAS operations beyond 2015.
The agency will have to work with the industry to develop the parameters for more complex operations. One of the barriers to the more widespread use of larger UAS that government-industry collaboration must address is securing the necessary bandwidth and electromagnetic spectrum for civilian UAS communications between the aircraft and the ground station.
Ground station operators are looking at feedback from the aircraft of avionics data, engine speed and altitude, everything that a pilot of a manned aircraft would normally have access to within the cockpit.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is researching ways to address this issue, but additional dedicated spectrum, including satellite spectrum, is still needed to ensure secure and continuous communications.
Ted Wierzbanowski, chairman of the F-38 UAS Committee, ASTM, which is focused on developing consensus standards in support of the upcoming FAA rule on small UAS, said the FAA is considering the use of aviation protected spectrum for purposes beyond line of sight operations.
“The issue with that is there is not a lot of satellite capability in that spectrum range,” said Wierzbanowski. “The technical folks are trying to develop a technical case to be able to use the existing satellite spectrum with the appropriate reliability and redundancy and everything so that you get the same level of safety that we get with aviation protected spectrum.”
Huerta said the roadmap released Thursday will be continually updated over the next five years and that the agency’s main goal is to focus on safety.