Meeting the UAS Challenge
I participated in an FAA executive panel with Peggy Gilligan, Jim Eck and Winsome Lenfert, moderated by Administrator Huerta. We discussed how our organizations are prioritizing and coordinating key aspects of integration such as research, concept development, the regulatory framework, airspace, airports and technology.
I stressed that the ATO’s challenge is to ensure that as we integrate drones, the NAS remains safe, efficient, and able to meet the needs of traditional airspace users. Many folks don’t know how complex the system is, or that we handle about 50,000 flights, serve more than 2 million passengers, manage both civilian and military traffic, and control traffic over 31 million square miles of airspace each and every day.
A key point made by everyone on the panel was that stakeholders—including government, industry and labor—must work together. We’ve seen how instrumental collaboration has been with NextGen implementation and with aviation safety. We’re taking the same approach with UAS, particularly through the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee, or DAC, which helps us look at drone use from every angle and prioritize our integration efforts.
Since the FAA’s Small UAS Rule went into effect in August 2016, the ATO has been manually processing requests to operate drones in controlled airspace. Approving these requests means ensuring that proposed operations don’t pose a hazard to manned aircraft or impact airspace or airport operations. Thus far, we’ve approved more than 2,900 authorization requests.
The Small UAS Rule also lets drone operators apply for a waiver to conduct certain types of drone operations not generally permitted, such as during nighttime, over people, or beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight, and other types. To date we have processed 87 waivers.
And in the meantime we’re continuing to develop the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, or LAANC, which will provide an automated and immediate way for UAS operators to receive approval for their operations in controlled airspace. By replacing the current manual approach for authorizations, LAANC will provide a more efficient and streamlined capability.
The LAANC is just the first step toward a more robust concept called UAS Traffic Management (UTM), a NASA research effort that the FAA is partnering on. UTM research will inform us about airspace operational requirements to enable large-scale visual and beyond visual line of sight operations in low altitude airspace. We’re also learning from research being conducted at UAS test sites and through Assure, the FAA’s UAS Center of Excellence. And we’re continuing to work on the UAS Detection Initiative, an effort to test technologies that would detect unauthorized drone operations near airports, other critical infrastructure and in unauthorized airspace.
All of these efforts will help us to safely integrate UAS into the airspace system, while ensuring that we meet the needs of existing aircraft operators.
Teri L. Bristol
ATO Chief Operating Officer