Upper airspace working group paves way for new and emerging aerospace technologies

The US-based Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has launched a new effort to open the skies even further.

The new Upper Airspace Working Group (UAWG) is focused on developing AIA positions on matters related to monitoring, responding to, and crafting industry policies and strategies concerning national and international regulation, legislation, and standards unique to high-altitude unmanned and manned aircraft, spacecraft, and other users.

Born out of an earlier effort by a group of experts focused almost purely on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the group said it quickly realised the opportunity to provide access to Upper Class E airspace (per the US. classification) to as many users as possible and formed the UAWG.

The working group kicked off its work in early June with a wide range of participating companies, including Boeing, Google, Harris, Rockwell Collins, and Alta Devices.  AIA members focused on diverse emerging missions such as commercial space transportation, supersonic aircraft developers, and infrastructure providers have joined UAS-focused members in formulating rules and regulations that will convert the vast, little-used airspace above 60,000 feet to a safe and productive medium for economic activity that will contribute to both the US and global economies.

“The UAWG is bringing together a diverse field of experts from across the aerospace industry to tackle the shared challenges and opportunities associated with the high-altitude airspace. Facebook knows from experience that working with industry partners helps us all move faster and accomplish more, and we are excited to be part of this group,” said Dave Hansell, public policy manager of Facebook, and chair of the UAWG.

The driving factor for success is international regulation.  The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—the United Nations’ specialized agency for civil aviation— presents a unique opportunity for implementation this year.  One of ICAO’s duties is to develop global implementation concepts that maintain safety while increasing aviation’s benefit partly through increased airspace efficiency and capacity.

This December, ICAO will convene the Second Global Air Navigation Industry Symposium, where industry will present new concepts, needs, and requirements that the community will consider for inclusion in the Global Air Navigation Plan, an ICAO document that ensures synchronisation of aviation efforts across member nations.  Since the document is only updated every six years, AIA said the next six months are critical both for the UAWG and to the future of an expanded airspace.

To be successful, the UAWG must bring together the full array of potential upper airspace users to agree on the concepts and requirements for global implementation over the next several years. Importantly, this collaboration extends beyond AIA to include the Federal Aviation Administration, which is already working in parallel towards solutions that support regulators, air navigation service providers, manufacturers, and operators so all can take advantage of the upper airspace benefit.

AIA also plans to work through the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations (ICCAIA)—an organisation tailored for ICAO engagement—to obtain buy-in from the global aerospace manufacturing community.

AIA said it was excited to lead this global effort that advances safe and efficient operation of future technologies, from Facebook and Google’s plans to provide internet in remote regions via high-altitude large UAS and balloons, respectively, to routine commercial space operations, to the next generation of supersonic and commercial jets. “AIA is the only organisation that can bring together such a team of industry talent and provide the structure to move the aerospace industry forward,” it said.

 

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