This post is Part Two of Who Owns the Sky? and will address the major goals and timeline of the FAA’s Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap. For Part One, which is an examination of the problems created by the integration of UAS, go here.
There is a lot to cover here so I’m just going to jump in. The one thing to keep in mind is the FAA is a government organization and all the dates provided are target dates. So to accurately set your expectations, add about six months onto any given date….if the date in question happens to fall during an election year, its probably safe to add 6 more.
Certification- The FAA believes that both drones and ‘pilots’ should be certified before they are cleared for take off. UAS themselves will need to pass an inspection that deems them “airworthy” and pilots will be licensed just like any airplane pilot or automobile driver. As such, the FAA has laid out the following benchmarks:
- Certification process established for one or more civil applicants by 2014. [Completed]
- Initial issue papers for one or more standard airworthiness certification projects available by 2014.
- FAA unique certification requirements published by 2015 and test projects completed by 2017.
- Certification for pilots and crew for sUAS classes published by 2014 (in accordance with and defined by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012)
- Certification requirements for pilots and crew not listed in the FMRA published by 2014-2017
Translation: Sometime between now and 2017(ish) the FAA wants to develop two set of criteria. One that outlines the hardware requirements for a commercial drone and one that establishes the “pilot’s test” for obtaining a license to fly said drone. And the licenses will be first available to those defined in the FMRA as part of an sUAS class (ie those already part of the aerospace industry). Fun Fact: The FAA does preface this goal by saying “not all UAS operations conducted for hire and compensation will require an Operator Certificate,” but mum is the word on what sort of operations these might be. It seems that the FAA reserves the right to tell you to get a pilots license ‘because we said so.’
Sense and Avoid- There are two sense and avoid methods recognized by the FAA. The first is a Ground Based Sense and Avoid (GBSAA) system, which is just a fancy way of saying “the way by which a human being, who is constantly monitoring the drone, can tell a UAS not to hit something.” The second, is a Airborne Sense and Avoid (ABSAA) system which takes the human out of the equation and just includes the “on board” sense and avoid software. And they both need to be regulated, separately:
- Advisory Circular on GBSAA systems and requirements released by 2015
- FAA approvals for use of GBSAA for educational and other public applications granted 2016-2018. Operation of the UAS is still subject to the approval of COA.
- Initial certification of ABSAA that facilitates UAS operations without the requirements of visual observer by 2016-2020.
- The first ABSAA certifications will be developed to be used by the Department of Defense “and other public and civil entities” in the National Airspace classes A, D, E and G.
Translation: It is going to take 4+ years for the FAA to essentially update the current system of air traffic control to include UAS and 6+ years to begin testing large-scale autonomous flight. Fun Fact: At best, by the time the GBSAA regulations are in place, they will be short lived. The point of drones is they are an autonomous aerial solution. By definition, a vehicle can’t be autonomous if it is susceptible to crashing into things. The self-location and environmental mapping/detection software that is being developed today will make the drones (and, incidentally, cars) of tomorrow far more qualified to pilot themselves than any human. The focus of the FAA when it comes to sense and avoid should be the Airborne systems. By studying the autonomous piloting of unmanned vehicles now, there will be precedents in place when the self-driving car comes to market.
Control and Communications- (where line of sight refers to radio signals not eyeballs)- Similar to above, the FAA wants to regulate the way by which people talk to drones once they are flying:
- Initial regulation and guidance material to enable production, sale, installation, and Maintenance of FAA-certified systems and services using line-of-sight (LOS) published by 2016-2017.
- International agreements, industry standards, FAA regulations and guidance material for beyond-line-of sight (BLOS) established by 2015 for civil UAS Control and Communications capabilities so they can be certified by FAA for FAA-approved operations.
Translation: The sale of LOS drone will not be sanctioned by FAA until 2017 at the earliest and the FAA sees the need to establish a globally agreed upon radio spectrum for UAS communication.
Small UAS- These are the benchmarks for the regulation of small unmanned aircraft systems, or drones that weigh less than 55 lbs.
- Finalize and sign memorandums of agreement signed in conjunction with the release of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This was slated for early 2014, and has since been pushed back to November.
- Train air traffic control workforce to work with sUAS six months after rule enactment; ongoing training through 2020.
- Final Rule published to implement the recommendations of the plan required by the FMRA by end of 2015.
Translation: This is the part of the document that has lead to everyone saying 2015 is the magic year when commercial drones will be legal in the U.S.
Fun Fact: There is no way the FAA is going to hit that deadline. Additionally, it may come to pass that the FAA has no legal jurisdiction over this class of drones, as a judge recently dismissed a case in which the FAA levied a $10,000 fine against a Virginia man for recklessly flying his drone.
Whew. That is a lot of information. I will let that sink in and promise to be more succinct in the forthcoming final installment of Who Owns the Sky where I will look at what all this means if you want to go launch a drone business tomorrow.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com