Leading the Way Into the National Airspace System

For more than four decades, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has advocated for and promoted the unmanned systems and robotics industry, most recently focusing on integrating unmanned aircraft systems in the NAS.
By Michael Toscano | October 22, 2014

For more than four decades, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has advocated for and promoted the unmanned systems and robotics industry, most recently focusing on integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System and showcasing the uses of UAS in the commercial and civil marketplace.

Whether it is aiding search and rescue missions, advancing scientific research, responding to natural disasters, or helping farmers care for their crops, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives. AUVSI supports the safe and responsible integration of UAS to unlock tremendous potential the technology holds while helping to boost local economies and create jobs.

Safe, Responsible Integration
As the agency in charge of aviation safety, the Federal Aviation Administration is at the forefront of this effort and has laid out a timeline and process for examining these issues. AUVSI is in regular contact with the FAA and we have also met and continue to maintain an open dialogue with the pilot community, air traffic controllers and others with a stake in aviation safety.

The industry is also taking steps to ensure that UAS are safely integrated through the development of “sense and avoid” systems and other technologies. AUVSI is committed to ensuring that UAS are integrated into the U.S. airspace in the manner that ensures the safety of all aircraft—manned and unmanned. One way AUVSI is helping with this is co-chairing the FAA’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight User Action Group, which was created by the co-chairs of the UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee in May. The purpose of this group is to seek input from users or potential users of UAS on what the immediate, near and long-term issues or hurdles are or might be for fielding this technology.

FAA Test Sites
The FAA legislation required the FAA administrator to create six UAS test sites for the testing and development of UAS as part of the safe and responsible integration of UAS into the national airspace.

Despite statutory requirements, the FAA failed to meet the August 2012 deadline for seeking proposals for test sites, as well as the December 2012 deadline for establishing the initial six test sites. AUVSI directly pressed the Department of Transportation and the FAA to open the test site selection process. In a letter to then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, AUVSI wrote that test sites were key to unlocking the potential of UAS both as a tool to make Americans safer, more secure and more productive, as well as an economic driver and job creator.

AUVSI also engaged third parties to make their voices heard. The Aerospace States Association, a consortium of states with aerospace industries led by lieutenant governors, also wrote to the FAA requesting the test site process move forward to avoid “losing our global advantage” in aviation innovation. In addition, AUVSI worked closely with the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus to ensure members of Congress were fully briefed on the FAA’s progress. In response to the continued delay in implementing key milestones, the caucus sent letters to the DOT secretary and the administrator asking them to stay on task and expedite the integration of UAS.

On Feb. 14, 2013, the FAA finally released its request for proposals for the six UAS test sites and the deadline for proposals was May 6, 2013. The FAA also addressed privacy issues by soliciting public comments on how test site operators should respect people’s privacy while still allowing UAS to fly.

The FAA’s request for test site proposals was an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft, and creating thousands of American jobs. States across the country have been eager to receive this FAA designation because they recognize the incredible economic and job creation potential it would bring with it. While AUVSI would prefer the FAA not limit the number of test sites, it applauded the agency for finally taking this important step, which will help create jobs and ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in aviation innovation.

Small UAS Rules
The 2012 legislation also required the FAA to publish a final rule for small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, within 27 months from the time legislation was signed. Unfortunately, the FAA has repeatedly delayed its small UAS rulemaking, missing the congressionally mandated deadline.  In the DOT's January  update of significant rulemakings, it listed the planned publication date of the sUAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as November 2014—almost four years late. The DOT’s explanation for the delay is “unanticipated issues requiring further analysis.”  As of early October, the FAA has again pushed back the date of publication to the “end of the year.”

AUVSI and 31 other industry associations, including agriculture groups, realtors, media organizations, and public safety organizations, sent a letter to the FAA strongly encouraging the agency to expedite the public notice and comment for small UAS rulemaking and to grant exemptions for limited commercial use of UAS.

Section 333
In the meantime, the FAA announced it was working to expedite limited commercial operations of UAS for specific low-risk applications, such as for crop spraying, filmmaking, pipeline and power-line inspections, flare stack inspections and precision agriculture. Section 333 of the 2012 legislation allows the FAA to grant expedited approval for limited commercial uses before the full integration is complete. As of September 2014, more than 40 organizations and companies have filed for exemptions, including the representatives from the film and television industry, Amazon.com and Yamaha. On Sept. 25, the FAA granted its first exemption to six film production companies. This is an important milestone in the integration process as it lays out the FAA’s vision of how commercial UAS may fly in the NAS.

While expediting the approval of certain low-risk commercial applications of UAS is an important step forward, the FAA is likely to miss the September 2015 deadline for UAS integration according to a report by the DOT's inspector general. The potential benefits for UAS cannot be underestimated. In fact, it is estimated that this industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact during the first decade following integration. Every year that integration is delayed, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic impact. This translates to a loss of $27.6 million per day that UAS are not integrated into the NAS.

AUVSI will continue working with the industry and other industries wanting to utilize this technology to push the FAA to integrate UAS safely into the NAS.


Author: Michael Toscano
President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International