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GCN : January 2014
Even though unmanned aerial systems are already hauling cargo, spraying crops, monitoring pipeline integrity and, of course, targeting terrorists, the use of UAS in domestic U.S. airspace has been very limited. The recently released Federal Avia- tion Administration's 2013 UAS road map --- "Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap" --- promises signi cant steps toward that goal. At the same time, however, the document makes it clear that the expanded use of unmanned aircraft in the United States will take place very gradually. In fact, the only step to be taken in 2014 that will be visible to the public will be the opening of six UAS test sites around the coun- try, operators of which the FAA recently announced. They are: the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, New York's Grif s International Airport, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University and Virginia Tech. The congressionally mandated sites will conduct limited UAS operations and research into how best to safely integrate UAS systems into the national airspace, including what navigation and certi cation requirements are needed. Behind the scenes, however, the road map calls for government and industry to pursue a series of steps toward developing technologies, stan- dards, rule and policies. "Ultimately," notes the report, "the pace of integra- tion will be determined by the ability of industry, the user community, and the FAA to overcome technical, regulatory, and operational challenges." The challenges are daunting. Apart from the bureaucratic steps of devel- oping standards and procedures, the report notes that there are still sig- ni cant technological and operational hurdles to be overcome. Speci cally, the report points to two areas requiring technological advances: sense-and-avoid systems and commu- nications. While some sense and avoid systems --- which are designed to ensure auto- matic collision avoidance --- are nearly ready for deployment, the FAA indicates that it is still researching standards and minimum performance requirements for such systems. The FAA's UAS road map also high- lights the need for further development of secure and reliable communications between unmanned aircraft and control stations "to support the required perfor- mance of the unmanned aircraft in the NAS and to ensure that the pilot always maintains a threshold level of control of the aircraft." The FAA is working with the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, a private nonpro t organization, to develop requirements for such com- munications systems. According to the report, "Advanced research is required in data link management, spectrum analysis and frequency management." More speci cally, the report cites the need for: • Identi cation of satellite communica- tion spectrum. • Veri cation and validation of con- trol communication nal performance requirements. • Establishment of UAS control link national/international standards. • Development and validation of tech- nologies to mitigate vulnerabilities. • Further research into human factors. According to the report, "In the near term, data will be collected to permit analysis of how pilots y UAS, how controllers provide service involving a mix of manned aircraft and UAS and how pilots and controllers interact with each other, with the goal of developing pilot, [air traf c control], and auto- mation roles and responsibilities concepts." While the report is very spe- ci c about its milestone goals for establishing requirements for UAS, it is notably vague about setting target dates for actual integration of UAS into the domestic airspace, no doubt because of uncertainty about the pace of technology developments. At the same time, as equipment developers have noted, the absence of standards has held back the develop- ment of the technologies. Accordingly, the FAA report advises an "incremental approach" to develop- ing the required technologies and inte- grating UAS into the domestic airspace. "Because the UAS community is well established under its current operational assumptions, it is unlikely the FAA or UAS industry will establish an entire set of design standards from scratch," the report notes. "As additional UAS airworthiness options are considered and UAS airworthiness design and op- erational standards are developed, type certi cation may be more ef ciently and effectively achieved." • Integration concerns will keep domestic drones on the tarmac BY PATRICK MARSHALL CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR The expanded use of unmanned aircraft in the United States will take place very gradually, according to a road map released by the FAA. [BrieFing] 8 GCN JANUARY 2014 • GCN.COM