Commercial, Regulation, Unmanned

FAA Asks for Budget Increase for Unmanned Traffic, Sustainability and Safety Oversight

By Kelsey Reichmann | June 3, 2021
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FAA headquarters in Washington DC. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is requesting a budget increase for fiscal year (FY) 2022 as it seeks to update its air traffic control system, make investments in safety and next-generation systems, and address the impact of aviation on climate change.

The budget request was released on May 28 and totals $18.5 billion, a 2.7 percent increase from FY 2021, with $11.4 billion for safety operations including $17.4 million for aviation safety oversight, $1 billion to update FAA facilities including the air traffic control system, and $88.5 million to reduce the impact of climate change including a new aviation climate research program.

“This funding level allows the FAA to make continued investments to safeguard the most complex airspace in the world,” the budget request states. “It also allows the FAA to future proof the nation’s airspace by continuing the deployment of NextGen technologies as well as safely and securely integrating new entrants such as unmanned aircraft systems and commercial space. In addition, the budget request supports our ongoing efforts to address the impacts aviation has on our environment and climate by overcoming barriers to the development of sustainable aviation fuels and accelerating the maturation of technologies to reduce noise, emissions and fuel burn from new commercial aircraft and engines.”

The budget request shows an increase in funding for research and development activities totaling $258.5 million, which is $60.5 million more than FY 2021.

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) investments

The FAA is requesting a total of over $100 million in funding for UAS research, development, and integration.

“As the pace of UAS integration accelerates and the number of users increases, FAA resources constrain our ability to review and grant airspace access requests, proactively respond to external stakeholder concerns, and implement the security requirements from the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act,” the document states. “To address these critical rulemaking efforts such as Remote Identification, the FAA is requesting an increase to enhance our analysis of data collected from all FAA partnerships, which is needed to ensure the safe and successful integration of UAS.”

The request includes $23.1 million and 46 full-time permanent (FTP) and 23 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees to be divided between Aviation Safety (AVS), Security and Hazardous Materials Safety (ASH), and Air Traffic Organization (ATO). This funding will help to manage the implementation of rules, legislation, and policy like Remote ID and UAS traffic Management, improve outreach and support to UAS stakeholders, and expand partnerships with state, local, and tribal governments.

The FAA is requesting $31.3 million for UAS implementation which includes $2.9 million for an FAA Drone Zone. The FAA Drone Zone is a cloud-based information technology platform that includes a UAS registration system, Part 107 authorizations and optional waivers, and UAS accident reporting.

As part of the FAA’s NextGen budget request, the agency wants $24 million for UAS concept validation and requirements development, UAS flight information management, and urban air mobility.

“These projects will allow integration of UAS operations into the national airspace system without impact to manned aircraft operations or creating disruptions or delays,” the request states. “The program will identify industry’s innovation work that can be leveraged in public-private partnerships. These projects support expanded operational opportunities while ensuring that national airspace operations will continue to remain as safe as they are today.”

These projects will tackle issues like beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights, airborne collision avoidance systems, developing a concept of operations for integrated UAS traffic management and air traffic management operations, and creating a flight information management system prototype for UAS traffic management operations.

In FY 2022, $4 million in funding is also requested for urban air mobility operations like airspace designs, rules, and procedures.

The FAA also wants over $22 million for a UAS research program to study UAS in the national airspace and develop regulatory standards. This research would develop and validate detect and avoid systems, command and control link performance, and pilot and visual observer training and qualifications.

“This research program focuses on the technical and regulatory challenges the FAA must overcome to safely integrate these new concepts and technologies into the NAS. Integrating UAS potentially affects the entire NAS due to various sizes of UAS, a wide range of maximum takeoff weights, large performance disparities compared to existing certificated aircraft, and varying capabilities to operate in all classes of airspace,” the document states.

Climate Change Investments

The FAA’s budget request reflects support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation to reach the 2030 and 2050 U.S. climate change goals.

The FAA’s NextGen budget request includes $33.4 million for funding to support the Continuous Lower Energy, Emission and Noise (CLEEN) program and the Aviation Sustainability Center (ASCENT) which will work to develop new aircraft and engine technologies and advance sustainable aviation fuels.

“Technologies developed by this program will result in a fleet of aircraft that have lower noise, use less fuel, and produce fewer emissions,” the document states. “This program also provides test data, analyses, and methodologies to support the development and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels. Funds from this program ensure novel jet fuels are drop-in compatible with today’s fleet of aircraft and are certified as being safe for use. They also ensure that sustainable aviation fuels, produced from renewable and waste feedstocks, and lower carbon aviation fuels, produced from fossil feedstocks, are appropriately credited under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).”

The FAA will use this funding to test and approve at least one alternative jet fuel type per year and identify which SAF could be used at greater than 50 percent blend levels.

The FAA also wants to create an Aviation Climate Research (ACR) program which would work with the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate in the Department of Energy. The FAA is requesting $50 million for this program which would look not only at SAF but electric propulsion and other transformative technologies.

“These investments will enhance and accelerate research in the areas of sustainable aviation fuels for jet engines, unleaded fuel alternatives for piston-engine aircraft, and alternate aircraft technologies including electric propulsion,” the document states. “More specifically, the program will support the development of sustainable aviation fuels that could be used in jet engines without blending with conventional petroleum-based jet fuel, evaluate aviation fuel supply chains to reduce the cost to produce sustainable aviation fuels and maximize their environmental benefits, and accelerate the identification of safe alternatives to leaded aviation fuel.”

Research on aircraft technologies and fuels related to the environment is also receiving over $33 million in the FAA’s research, engineering, and development request.

The FAA’s budget request reflects an effort to tackle all environmental impacts of aviation including noise. The FAA wants over $20 million to support this mission which would include developing international standards for subsonic and supersonic aircraft and providing support for the development of noise certification standards for UAS and advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles.

“Noise and emissions generated by aircraft represent considerable challenges to the growth of aviation. Environmental impacts, especially aircraft noise, are often the number one cause of opposition to airport capacity expansion and airspace redesign,” the document states. “Concerns about the impacts of aircraft emissions on climate change could limit the growth of international aviation. Further, in some areas of the country, air quality is of concern. These challenges are anticipated to grow with increased use of the national air space for evolving operations, specifically unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles, civil supersonic aircraft, and commercial space vehicles.”

Other Big Priorities

The FAA wants to allocate $17.4 million and 81 FTE employees to review the FAA’s aircraft certification process after the Boeing 737 MAX investigation. This funding will support the response to the 2021 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.

“The FAA continues to implement the recommendations and support activities that directly relate to the Boeing 737 MAX investigation and reviews…Responding to the 2021 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act, the FAA is establishing an Ombudsman organization, as well as designating an Office of Investigations and Professional Responsibility to ensure proper execution of the investigative process,” the document states.

The FAA is predicting an uptick in commercial space transport activities in FY 2022 and is requesting over $32 million to support this mission.

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