Insights into News about the UAS industry: its position, education, rulemaking, test sites and new drones

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The volume of news flow about UAS may exceed the volume of the purchase of these innovative aircraft. Below is a sampling of significant news stories about this exciting segment:

  1. Education and innovation the key to safer skies — by Brian Wynne, President of AUVSI: Education is essential for this industry’s future. The operators need this information to fly safely, which includes compliance with the FAA’s standards. Mr. Wynne is right in saying that “[u]nfortunately, the current guidelines can be hard to acquire, and, if you do access it, it can be complicated to understand.” While B4UFLY is a positive addition, it is short of specific operating advice. The FAA has announced that it is creating a smartphone APP which will bring to airspace knowledge to the field. All involved should try to add practical knowledge to the library for UAS operators.
  2. AUVSI Urges The FAA to Keep Up to Speed With Rapid UAS Evolution — The introductory sentence makes clear what Mr. Wynne thinks:

“Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology is rapidly expanding in capability and popularity, but its evolution will be decelerated if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is unable to keep up with the quick pace from a regulatory perspective.”

Unless AUVSI believes that the FAA is intentionally dragging its feet, the solution is not in its control. For example, one of the solutions offered is to exempt “low-risk operations, like aerial surveys above rural farmland and operations with micro UAS that weigh less than 4.4 pounds.” While that appears to be a swift solution, the reality is that any FAA regulatory action, like issuing an exemption, takes time. To assign staff to write such a decision would take others off of other projects, like the final Part 107. Rather than suggest that Congress in writing the FAA Reauthorization bill should include specific UAS changes, AUVSI might urge the Hill to minimize the FAA labyrinth of approvals and/or add staff positions for this work.

a. The real problem is innovation in the UAS industry and the FAA’s limitations to respond. Embedded in the current safety standards are restrictions based on the current UAS technology. When “sense and avoid” technology is proven, the FAA will have to rewrite those sections of Part 107. Deleting takes as much time as proposing.

b. Another theme of this interview is the need for more research. That is a suggestion to which all FAA staff would agree; Congress is the answer. It would also be wise for such authorization and appropriations legislation (two bills) include language compelling the FAA to define specific parameters for the results of such inquiries.

  1. Drone school: FAA testing begins and we’re there! — Here’s the news about the joint project of the Associated Press, Getty Images, ReutersThe New York TimesThe Washington Post, Gannett (USA Today), NBCUniversal, Univision and others. The group worked with the National Press Photographers Association to create guidelines for the trials:

Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership said, “The research testing we are initiating will provide the news media coalition a safe and innovative way to gather and disseminate information and keep journalists out of harm’s way.”

“The research program includes news gathering simulations of various locations, including remote regions and urban environments. The results of the testing will be shared with the FAA as the agency settles on regulations for the UAS industry.”

  1. There’s a new Silicon Valley of drones, and it isn’t in California — Grand Sky Development Park opens at the state’s Grand Forks Air Force Base. It is expected to “generate about 3,000 jobs by its 2016 completion, including 1,000 permanent jobs on site, 1,000 jobs around the community and 1,000 jobs outside the state…. North Dakota committed $5 million to help bring infrastructure to the site as part of its 2015-17 executive budget and another $7.5 million in grants for runway improvements. With the project expected to cost about $25 million in total, the balance will be covered by private investment.. At about the same time, the University of North Dakota established a “center of excellence” for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), offering the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in unmanned aviation. Five students received degrees in 2011; the program’s first graduating class. Today, more than 100 students are enrolled, and the program is one of more than 30 similar degree programs at universities throughout the country… North Dakota’s test site was the first to earn operational designation from the FAA and the first to fly under the agreement. The site covers more than half the state, boasting 45,000 square miles of authorized airspace — the largest such volume of any single state.”
  2. Aurora First to Fly Large UAS in FAA-Designated Test Site — Aurora Flight Sciences announced that from its Centaur optionally piloted aircraft flew multiple unmanned flights from Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York. The successful test flights were conducted in full collaboration and compliance with Oneida County’s Griffiss UAS Test Site, which is managed by Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). The flights marked the first time any large scale, fixed wing aircraft has flown at either of six FAA-designated unmanned aircraft test sites in the U.S. Full-sized aircraft without pilots is quite newsworthy.

The dimensions of this business continue to expand and just gathering the information is a challenge. The uses of these vehicles already identified are extremely impressive, but the future applications are beyond the speculative abilities of mere mortals. The designs, operating capabilities, systems to be included in them and other innovations have incredible potential. The addition of education (from vocational training of drone pilots to academic research) offers important improvements in safe flight.

While those frontiers are constantly expanding, the regulatory tools are limited and not likely to be improved. That may be the ultimate bottleneck to the growth of the UAS industry.

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