As Congress is expected to turn its attention this week to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is underscoring policy priorities to accelerate the commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry.
AUVSI notes that the FAA missed the Sept. 30, 2015, congressionally mandated deadline for UAS integration, which was set in the last FAA reauthorization four years ago. The current FAA authorization expires on March 31.
“While the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 outlined a timeline for UAS integration, the FAA has been plagued by delays and has achieved only some of the milestones,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “AUVSI and its members urge the FAA to use all available means to establish a regulatory framework immediately and without any further delays.”
AUVSI has come up with six priorities that it would like to see addressed in the FAA reauthorization bill:
Implement a “risk-based, technology-neutral” regulatory framework
Any UAS regulations proposed in FAA reauthorization should rely on a safety risk management process that assesses the entirety of a UAS operation, instead only the system itself. This type of flexible framework will allow for the FAA to accommodate innovation, rather than require new rules each time a new technology emerges.
If the agency followed a detailed risk analysis of all factors involved – which may include system weight, available frequency spectrum, population density and overlying airspace – the operations may be regarded as safe and thus would be granted access to airspace with minimal regulatory barriers.
Expand Section 333 exemption authority to include beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)
According to the authority provided under Section 333 of the 2012 act, the FAA has granted permission for limited commercial use of UAS on a case-by-case basis. This process can be used to allow for more uses of this technology in the short term by giving the FAA the clear authority to address Section 333 exemption requests for BVLOS operations.
These operations are crucial to many commercial uses of UAS. As written, the underlying provision does not specifically allow for BVLOS operations. Ultimately, the FAA reauthorization measure should support and accelerate the development of consensus standards, regulations and other guidance addressing the technical and operational challenges limiting certification of UAS – thereby eliminating the need for additional 333 exemptions.
Develop a holistic research and development (R&D) plan for UAS integration
The FAA reauthorization legislation should provide a comprehensive UAS R&D plan. There is a lot of good work already being done, and better coordination will ensure we’re maximizing the impact of these efforts. Though the FAA’s Pathfinder Program and UAS Center of Excellence have great promise for success, we need better visibility on how they will fit into the larger UAS integration picture, which would include all types of airspace and sizes of UAS. This plan should outline government and industry roles, milestones and dates for advancing outstanding research needs.
Make FAA-designated UAS test sites eligible for federal funding
Congress should consider making the test sites eligible for federal funding under current FAA offices and programs that are engaged with UAS activities in order to help them perform valuable research needed for integration.
This would not specifically add new funding for the test sites; rather, it could allow for them to receive existing federal funding and give industry guidance and incentive to better use the sites.
Advance the development of a UAS traffic management system
Congress should also facilitate the development of an operational UAS traffic management system/network to ensure the safe and efficient use of the airspace. Some commercial UAS operations will occur at low levels, but this airspace may become complex with established navigation routes and point-to-point route segments requiring specific equipage requirements. Thus, a traffic management system will integrate UAS into the existing national airspace infrastructure and ensure the continued safety of the airspace.
Elevate UAS integration into the national airspace as a national priority
Leadership and coordination with industry and government partners is absolutely critical to ensure the U.S. regains trailblazer status in this international industry. As UAS integration must be done in coordination with NextGen, there is an opportunity to consider linking the two efforts and their resources more effectively going forward.