FAA to work with industry, DOD, DHS, NASA, and others to integrate unmanned aircraft in national airspace

WASHINGTON, 9 Nov. 2013. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, speaking at the AIA – Unmanned Aircraft Systems Forum, discussed the organization’s new unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) integration roadmap, pending selection of UAS test sites, privacy issues, and dedication to work with aerospace industry leaders and government partners—including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, NASA, and the Joint Planning and Development Office—to define parameters to safely integrate these “very diverse systems into the world’s most complex airspace.”



Huerta delivered the following speech, “UAS Roadmap,” to the AIA – Unmanned Aircraft Systems Forum in Washington:

Aviation and aerospace hold a special place in the American consciousness. They are a symbol of American innovation. And innovation is what makes this country grow and prosper.

As we move into the second century of flight, we are transforming our airspace to take advantage of technological breakthroughs, and to maintain our position as a global leader. Through NextGen, we are transitioning from a system of ground-based radar and navigational aids, to a system that uses satellites and GPS for greater precision, more direct routes, greater fuel efficiency and better predictability.  

NextGen is about taking the enormous advances that are taking place today in communications, computing and navigation, and incorporating these advances into our nation’s aviation system.

With the growth of the Internet, of data-sharing, and of precise mapping, we have no choice but to leverage these benefits in the world of flight. NextGen is bringing these advances to aviation and allowing us to create the airspace of the future. And in that airspace of the future, we will have new users. We will have more commercial space launches and we’ll have more unmanned aircraft systems. As you know, it requires significant work to build consensus on how to safely integrate game-changing technologies such as these. 

I’m pleased to say that we have made solid progress. The FAA has released its first Unmanned Aircraft Systems roadmap. This document, developed with key stakeholders, outlines what we need to do to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into our national airspace. It provides a five-year outlook and will have annual updates.

The roadmap addresses the policies, the regulations, the technologies, and procedures that we will need to integrate unmanned aircraft on a routine basis. To accomplish this, we must change the way we do business. We have operational goals as well as safety issues that we must consider when planning to expand the use of unmanned aircraft.

As the provider of air traffic services, we must ensure the safety and efficiency of the entire airspace, including all aircraft, people and property – both manned and unmanned – in the air and on the ground.

Unmanned aircraft are inherently different from manned aircraft. They run a very wide range, with a number of different physical and operational characteristics. Some are the size of a fist, and fly at low altitudes. Others have glider-like bodies with the wing span of a 737 and can fly above 60,000 feet.  Many can fly longer and hover longer than manned aircraft. They are also lighter and slower than traditional aircraft and have more lift and not as much drag. What unites them all is that the pilot is on the ground and not on board the aircraft.

Our FAA forecast estimates that we can expect 7,500 small unmanned aircraft in our national airspace in the next five years, provided the regulations are in place to handle them.

Right now, almost all of the unmanned aircraft operations we approve for public use and research purposes are on a case by case basis.

For the last two decades, the FAA has authorized the limited use of unmanned aircraft for important missions in the public interest. These include firefighting, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, border patrol, military training, and testing and evaluation.

About 80 law enforcement agencies operate unmanned aircraft now under special certificates of authorization. Universities also use unmanned aircraft for research into weather, agriculture, and industrial uses.

And more recently, in September, the first commercial flight of an unmanned aircraft took place in the rainy skies above the Arctic Circle. A Scan Eagle completed a 36-minute flight to view marine mammals and survey ice. These surveys are needed to meet environmental and safety requirements before drilling on the sea floor.

This flight was coordinated by ConocoPhillips, the FAA, the manufacturer of the Scan Eagle, and other federal and international agencies. This Arctic region is the only area to date where we have authorized the use of small unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes.

In moving forward, we recognize that the expanded use of unmanned aircraft presents great opportunities, but it’s also true that integrating these aircraft presents significant challenges.

There are operational issues that we need to address, such as pilot training. We also need to make sure that unmanned aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft, and that they operate safely if they lose the link to their pilot.

This is why developing more test data is so important. By the end of the year, we plan to choose six test sites for civil unmanned aircraft. Congress required us to do so, and we need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the best data that we can.  The test sites will provide invaluable information to help us develop policies and procedures to ensure safe, responsible and transparent integration.

Today, we are also releasing the privacy policy that will apply to the UAS test sites. This policy requires operators to comply with all local, state and federal laws concerning privacy and civil liberties. We’re requiring the test site operators to create a privacy policy that is available to the public. And they must require anyone operating unmanned aircraft at the test sites to have a written plan for how they will use and retain any test data acquired. On a broader level, agencies across the government are coming together to work on privacy issues that may arise with the increasing use of unmanned aircraft beyond these test sites.

Our airspace system is not static. And it’s important for industry to understand that unmanned operations will evolve over time.

In addition to the roadmap, the Department of Transportation is releasing a Comprehensive Plan that dovetails with the FAA’s roadmap. This Comprehensive Plan details the multi-agency approach to the safe and timely integration of unmanned aircraft. The plan establishes goals to integrate both small and larger unmanned aircraft, and to foster America’s leadership in advancing this technology.

All three of these new documents – the Comprehensive Plan, the Roadmap and the privacy policy for the test sites – are available on our web site at FAA.GOV.

We are dedicated to working with stakeholders in this growing industry and with our government partners – the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as NASA and the Joint Planning and Development Office – to define parameters to safely integrate these very diverse systems into the world’s most complex airspace.

Rest assured the FAA will fulfill its statutory obligations to integrate unmanned systems.  But we must fulfill those obligations in a thoughtful, careful manner that ensures safety and promotes economic growth.   

While aviation is unquestionably an industry known for innovation, it is also an industry with a strong history of collaboration between government and industry. This collaboration has enabled us to achieve a position of international leadership. The U.S. is recognized as the “gold standard” for aviation safety, efficiency and technology. 

And we need to keep it that way.

Together, we need to address the many areas where we need standards for these new unmanned aircraft. This includes standards for manufacturing and standards for pilot training.

We have a challenging task ahead and we all have a stake in this goal.

For us to be effective, funding for the government needs to happen in a predictable and reliable way so that we can consistently work towards the greater good.  Short-term, stop-gap funding is no way to run a government or an aviation system.

We must move forward with NextGen and the rollout of new technologies, such as modern communications, navigation, and surveillance systems for our nation’s airspace. The integration of unmanned aircraft relies on these kinds of NextGen advancements.  We are building a complex and inter-related airspace. We need to join together again and vocally support the priorities that we have established.

By working together, government and industry will overcome the challenges that face us, and open the door to a more diverse and dynamic aviation future.  

Thank you.

UAS & national airspace images courtesy Shutterstock.

shutterstock_FAA
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