No single set of FARs can possibly cover all of the potential applications, but there is an FAA accepted procedure which may provide a tested mechanism which can fill the interstices between the written rule and the actual proposed operation.
The enormity of the design of the UAS regulatory regime is demonstrated by the above three images. The pictures are still photography and do not convey the extreme expanding motions which this industry is experiencing. Thus, it is not surprising that the critics within and without the FAA are vocal in their criticism of the slow development and dissemination of these rules.
So many circumstances, defined by the commercial and personal potential uses, must be included in the regulatory strictures. At the time of the issuance of the UAS safety rules, the FAA would have to be prescient to incorporate all of the controls needed to minimize the risks posed by all of the uses of all of the UAS aircraft for a future filled with blazing evolution. How then, can this be accomplished when the horizons are so diverse and subject to such change?
This enormous set of future flights can be defined in generic terms of
· technical capabilities (sense and avoid, etc.),
· places of operation,
· ground situation beneath the operational areas,
· day/night flights,
· weather conditions,
· pilot skills,
· specific mission,
At the time of issuance of the final rules, as well as at the time of the FAA’s current grant of exemptions, the agency staff cannot possibly anticipate all of the detailed points which should be specified in the set of safety controls. The FAA internal critics are in some ways correct; any regulatory coverage of the UAS industry will likely have “holes”. It is virtually impossible to anticipate all of the potential issues of safety on an a priori basis.
How to fill the gap between the safety structure established by the FAA’s regulations/exemption and the myriad of potential operational conditions? The FAA created Safety Management System as a tool for individual operators to identify issues and develop proactive solutions to them. Any “gap” in the safety precautions can be closed in a two-step process.
· First, commercial operators would be required to use the pre-existing, promulgated rules as their base.
· Second, the FAA grant of authority would then add a precondition that the operator, under the exacting discipline of SMS, must assess the specific issues which need further structure or systems or procedures.
The SMS process currently examines where and how existing FARs and company practices/procedures need to be enhanced. Applying this same rubric to UAS commercial operators, supported by MITRE qualified SMS implementation and training companies, will create the comprehensive safety net which characterizes the FAA’s historical standards.
The UAS rules may not create specific requirements for every potential use. [Given the dynamic nature of the UAS technology and business uses, perhaps the FAA CANNOT anticipate all possible risks.] SMS is designed to find those interstices and fill them in.
Further, since the discipline is not static, SMS’ process will demand continuous improvement. These advances will come from
· the lessons learned,
· constant reassessment of the data produced by the initial operations and
· a process which involves all who are part of the flights.
The FAA is aware of the SMS actions which will create benefits in two dimensions. First, the safety regulator will have oversight of what is being done and second, the FAA staff can share advancements with other UAS operators. For example, as new technology (i.e. “sense and avoid”) is introduced, the operator will have to use SMS to realign its safety processes and the FAA will see how the innovation is incorporated. Historically, the addition of some new operational capability sometimes required the FAA to initiate an NPRM with the potential for substantial delays.
It is, indeed, daunting or even impossible for the regulator to anticipate what safety challenges are posed in issuance of a final rule which has such future, expansive applicability. The extensive breadth of the equipment, uses, operational environments, etc. makes it impossible for “a one size fits all” set of regulations for all of the future UAS flights. The alternative proposed here is
- · to set a baseline of rules/standards which would apply to all and
- · then have SMS make the unique adjustments which are needed.
By so doing those unanticipated and/or new risks can be addressed on a timely basis.
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