US drone integration efforts find focus

The critical issues affecting the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into US airspace will be assessed through the work of three important groups within the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Michael Huerta announced the creation of the DAC in May 2016 and provides an open venue for the FAA and industry and academic stakeholders to work in partnership to identify and recommend a single, consensus-based set of resolutions for issues related to the safety and efficiency of integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. It also provides the FAA with recommendations that may be used for tactical and strategic planning.

On January 31, the multi-stakeholder advisory group met in Reno, Nevada, to discuss the work and progress of the DAC’s three sub-committees, each tasked with advising the DAC – and ultimately the FAA – on possible solutions to three critical challenges to integration: defining the various roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments in regulating UAS and enforcing of UAS rules and law; identifying the technological and regulatory mechanisms that will allow UAS operators to gain access to the airspace beyond what the agency currently permits under the 14 CFR part 107 (the Small UAS Rule), and; finding the mechanisms and resources to fund the expanded provision of services needed to support UAS integration.

“While the DAC’s work is only beginning, the second DAC meeting gives meaningful insight into what issues the DAC and its subcommittees will address in the coming months,” said Michael Senkowski of law firm DLA Piper’s UAS group.  He said those in the UAS industry or interested in the applications of UAS technology should be mindful of the DAC’s priorities and the following developments:

  • The FAA announced the establishment of a certification basis for the AeroVironment Puma UAS – the first certification basis announced for a UAS.
  • DAC sub-committee task group dedicated to defining the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments will address: (i) identifying specific state and local interests in the regulation of UAS use, (ii) whether or not a portion of the low altitude UAS airspace can be delegated to local and state regulation, and (iii) the mechanisms for enforcement of federal safety and airspace rules and regulations by local and state government and the possibility of parallel and/or complementary enforcement mechanisms.
  • The DAC subcommittee task group dedicated to airspace access will address expedited procedures for UAS airworthiness certification, the appropriate technology and mechanisms to facilitate autonomous command and control functions (such as spectrum allocations, satellite, and wireless cell), and provide recommendations for revised operational requirements which may allow for UAS operations beyond those currently permitted under the Small UAS Rule (e., beyond visual line of sight operations).
  • The third DAC subcommittee task group regarding The DAC will address what activities and services are necessary to support the safe integration of UAS into NAS, assess what funding resources are needed, and identify what funding mechanisms should be utilized.

The three DAC subcommittee task groups have numerous scheduled meeting over the coming months ahead of the next DAC general meeting in May of 2017.

The DAC approved the first two task group statements with edits which have subsequently been finalised.

  • The statements for Task Group 1 and Task Group 2 are available online.
  • The FAA received the DAC’s feedback on the third tasking statement and will finalize it over the coming weeks. The third tasking statement will be posted on RTCA’s website.
  • The next DAC meeting will be held on May 3 in Washington, DC. Information about the DAC, including meetings, is available on RTCA’s website

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