Aviation Safety Policy Decisions are Complicated

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Expertise and informed commentary are being diluted in this age of social media. Journalists historically used to take the time to research and understand all sides of an issue. Not so today. The below “article” slams the FAA’s efforts to assure the safety of UAS operations. The same superficial approach fails to understand the safety risks in this complex emerging form of flight.

The UAS industry is an explosive economic driver of business. The technology opens new types of business and a UAS can literally be flown anywhere by anybody. That’s a challenge for a regulator with unlimited resources and a single focus. Aside from its existing massive responsibilities to set rules and police all forms of aviation (including space), the ubiquity of UASs makes the task of surveillance virtually impossible. The ability of these aircraft to operate anywhere in the airspace puts regular aviation at potentially unmitigated risk of midair collisions.

Add to all of those dimensions which must be controlled by the FAA in this new air sector, UASs currently cannot meet the basic rule of all aviation—“see and avoid”. Yes, as noted in the linked article, the technology is being developed, but this important capability to maintain separation is not yet available.

Based on that crucial risk-based analysis, the FAA’s proposed Part 107 only permits commercial UAS flight within the line-of-sight of the pilot/operator. A sound decision premised on the preeminent policy—safety to the general public. The article characterizes this decision as follows:

“It’s a response to the massive wet blanket the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules threw on the country’s budding aerial industry: that drone operators need to have a line of sight to their aircraft. A working drone air traffic plan could potentially remove that restriction.”


“But it’s far from a sure thing. The FAA would still have to be convinced, and right now the agency’s hard rule is absolutely no remote driving, ever.”

The story then turns to praise NASA for researching techniques which would create positive control of the UASs at lower altitudes. A little more effort to learn how government works would have revealed that NASA and the FAA are partners in this task. While it’s known for the “S” in its name, the 1st “A” is for Aeronautics. It performs considerable advanced quest for all sorts of advances in aviation. NASA’s work with Exelis, mentioned in the article, was surely with the knowledge and coordination of the FAA.

The choice of words tended to diminish the FAA’s role in the solution and repeatedly emphasized its “incompetence” in issuing the new sUAS NPRM. Such apparent omniscience could suffer from a lack of diligence. Here’s the same story with a clearer picture of the complexity, demands and advances exhibited by NASA and FAA.

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