US inches towards UAS integration

08 August 2017
Pilots from the NUAIR Alliance tested UAS at Griffiss International Airport in New York State, before Technology Capability Level 2 (TCL2) flight test demonstrations in June 2017. TCL2 tests took place at Griffiss and four other FAA UAS test sites, focusing on BVLOS operations in sparsely populated areas. Source: NUAIR Alliance

Safety is the watchword as regulators and industry continue efforts to include unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System

The United States is facing a future in which more and more aircraft will be unmanned. As a result, regulations are in progress that will lay the groundwork for rules of the road for all unmanned aerial systems (UASs). At the same time technology developers are producing innovations that will revolutionise the aviation industry, even as complex questions regarding privacy, National Airspace System (NAS) integration, and flight safety are raised and addressed.

Emilio Gonzalez, director and CEO of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, recently voiced his concerns about drones flying near airports. “The use of drones across the country continues to grow rapidly, which means the dangers associated with flying drones near commercial aircraft continues to grow as well,” he warned. “Safety and security, needless to say, are paramount concerns. This high proliferation of drone use near our airport and others nationwide is dangerous at best, and the worst-case scenario would be catastrophic.”

Near misses

The pace of UAS market growth in the United States is undeniable. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects hobbyist and commercial UAS sales to hit 7 million by 2020, of which 4.3 million would be to hobbyists and 2.7 million to commercial operators. Higher UAS use inevitably carries a greater risk of airspace proximity incidents between manned and unmanned aircraft (the FAA definition of a near miss is when aircraft pass within 500 ft of each other). Most such incidents involving UAS occur within five miles of an airport.

Unmanned aircraft flying at low altitude near airports, potentially threatening manned aircraft that are taking off or landing, are of primary concern to commercial air carriers and private pilots. While there is a significant amount of ongoing research and regulatory activity aimed at addressing the integration of UAS into shared airspace, there is much work that still remains to be done.

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