Key documents laying out the path to integration of unmanned aircraft in national airspace have been released by the U.S. government, but achieving the goals will require “predictable and reliable” funding for the NextGen airspace modernization program, cautions Administrator Michael Huerta.
The five-year road map, which will be updated annually, “outlines what we need to do to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into our national airspace,” Huerta said Nov. 7 in Washington. The document address policies, regulations, technologies and procedures needed for UAS integration.
The goal is routine operation of civil UAS, rather than the case-by-case approval process now used and restricted to public use and research. “We can expect 7,500 small unmanned aircraft in our national airspace within the next five years, provided the regulations are in place to handle them,” Huerta said.
The announcement was welcomed by industry. “The FAA is making significant progress toward meeting the congressional mandate of UAS domestic integration by 2015,” says Marion Blakey, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association.
The road map “looks like a great start,” says’s Ted Wierzbanowski, who also leads the UAS group within standards-developer ASTM International.
The Transportation Department’s comprehensive plan sets national, multiagency goals for airspace integration. These include routine public and civil operations by small UAS (under 55 lb.) – without special authorization, within visual line-of-sight of the ground operator and outside Class B/D airspace – by 2015.
Routine access by larger UAS, initially with limitations, is targeted for 2015 for public operations and 2020 for civil operators.
The FAA’s road map sets more detailed goals. These include pathfinder projects for restricted-category airworthiness certification of two UAS – which was achieved in August with approval of the AeroVironmentand Insitu for commercial operations in the Arctic.
As a follow-on, another pathfinder project has begun with a manufacturer for standard certification of a UAS, with initial planning to be completed in 2014, unique certification requirements to be identified by 2015 and airworthiness approval to be completed by 2017.
The FAA plans to publish the much-delayed notice of proposed rulemaking for the small UAS rule early in 2014. This will set requirements for training and operation, and require the use of consensus standards for self-certification being developed by ASTM.
FAA approval of ground-based sense-and-avoid systems is planned for the third quarter of 2015 at U.S.sites and from 2016-18 for educational and public use at other locations.
Initial certification of airborne sense-and-avoid (ABSAA) is planned for 2016-2020. An initial industry proposal for a pathfinder program is expected in the second quarter of 2014, with the FAA to detail any issues and actions by second quarter 2015.
Preliminary “Phase 1” minimum operational performance standards (MOPS) for ABSAA, being developed by standards body RTCA, are planned for the third quarter of 2015 and will be aimed at civil UAS operating in Class A airspace under instrument flight rules.
The final Phase 1 MOPS are scheduled to be released in the third quarter of 2016, with the FAA technical standard order (TSO) allowing ABSAA equipment to be manufactured commercially by the first quarter of 2017.
MOPS for the Phase 1 line-of-sight command-and-control (C2) datalink are to be released by the third quarter of 2016, with TSOs to follow in 2016-17. MOPS and TSOs for the Phase 2 beyond-line-of-sight C2 link are scheduled to follow agreement on satellite spectrum at the 2015 World Radio Conference.