Embracing the Challenge of New Operational Requirements
When some of the newest users of our national airspace first emerged, I don’t think any of us anticipated just how quickly we’d have to adapt and find ways to make our system accessible for additional purposes beyond manned aircraft moving passengers and cargo from place to place.
Since those early days, I am pleased at how many ways the FAA and our colleagues in the ATO are leading and contributing to so many innovative initiatives involving unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commercial space vehicles and other non-traditional entrants.
This week, several members of our team participated in the FAA’s UAS Symposium. We made an exciting announcement about starting a national beta test of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), with a scheduled rollout to begin on April 30. LAANC is a collaboration with industry that allows drone operators to request access to controlled airspace and receive a response nearly instantly. We have added additional information about the rollout on the LAANC website, including industry information for companies interested in becoming a LAANC service supplier.
At the symposium, we gave drone users and entrepreneurs other important information about how our airspace works to help them navigate their next steps, and we also discussed shared responsibility for developing integration solutions while keeping our airspace safe. Our Deputy Chief Operating Officer Tim Arel, who was on a panel at the symposium, talked about the value an electronic identification system would play in collecting information that could be used to detect safety and security trends and how that information would contribute to preventing future events.
At a global air traffic meeting I attended this week as chair of the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization, I talked with some of my international colleagues about the growth and challenges of autonomous operations in air traffic management.
Some interesting things are happening in this arena, including using balloons and other vehicles in upper Class E airspace (above 60,000 feet) to function like cell towers in the sky providing internet and phone service in areas without it. Our Eastern Service Center and San Juan Center colleagues helped bring this internet and phone service technology to Puerto Rico, by assisting Google with Project Loon and issuing an important waiver after Hurricane Maria damaged the island’s telecommunications infrastructure. These services were restored much faster than previously possible.
And last week, I participated in a kickoff event for two Aviation Rulemaking Committees (ARC). These ARCs will help us make decisions about equitable airspace access for airplanes and commercial space operations and standardize the categorization of spaceports across the nation.
Those are a few activities we’ve been involved in during just the last few days. Our ATO team is active in a number of other ways with new entrants. Integrating these unique operational requirements into our current NAS operations is a challenge, but it’s a challenge we fully embrace.