FAA, DOT Release Key UAS Airspace Integration Plans

By Graham Warwick graham.warwick@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First
November 07, 2013
Credit: Boeing

Key documents laying out the path to integration of unmanned aircraft in national airspace have been released by the U.S. government, but achieving the goals will require “predictable and reliable” funding for the NextGen airspace modernization program, cautions FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Three related documents were released today – the FAA’s first annual road map for civil unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) integration, the Transportation Department’s UAS comprehensive plan and the final privacy policy for UAS test sites to be established by the FAA. They are the result of a congressional mandate in February 2012 requiring the FAA to enable integration of unmanned aircraft into civil airspace by 2015.

The five-year road map, which will be updated annually, “outlines what we need to do to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into our national airspace,” Huerta said Nov. 7 in Washington. The document address policies, regulations, technologies and procedures needed for UAS integration.

The goal is routine operation of civil UAS, rather than the case-by-case approval process now used and restricted to public use and research. “We can expect 7,500 small unmanned aircraft in our national airspace within the next five years, provided the regulations are in place to handle them,” Huerta said.

The announcement was welcomed by industry. “The FAA is making significant progress toward meeting the congressional mandate of UAS domestic integration by 2015,” says Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association.

The road map “looks like a great start,” says AeroVironment’s Ted Wierzbanowski, who also leads the UAS group within standards-developer ASTM International.

The Transportation Department’s comprehensive plan sets national, multiagency goals for airspace integration. These include routine public and civil operations by small UAS (under 55 lb.) – without special authorization, within visual line-of-sight of the ground operator and outside Class B/D airspace – by 2015.

Routine access by larger UAS, initially with limitations, is targeted for 2015 for public operations and 2020 for civil operators.

The FAA’s road map sets more detailed goals. These include pathfinder projects for restricted-category airworthiness certification of two UAS – which was achieved in August with approval of the AeroVironment Puma AE and Insitu ScanEagle for commercial operations in the Arctic.

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