UAV Introduction into the National Airspace System
In the very near future, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will become Standard Tools for a wide variety of Civil Engineering, Precision Agricultural, Livestock and Land Management, Industrial, and Homeland Security, Industrial Security, Police-Fire as well as for many other Commercial Applications not currently serviced or serviced by manned aircraft.
Routine UAV Commercial (Civil) flight missions are currently awaiting technical developments to mature (DSA) and regulatory guidance and policy based upon concensus standards for collision avoidance, airworthiness and pilot certification, operations and maintenance and other important areas to evolve. Barriers to UAV integration into the NAS and expansion and development of commercial use is discussed in other areas of UAVM.com. The principal barriers are airspace allocation (FAA Regulatory issues), allocated airwave bandwidth to accomodate large volume video streaming and other telemetry broadcast requirements, concensus standards which, when developed, will form the basis for risk analysis and thus will stimulate investment and insurance at acceptable rates, and finally strategic market development for target applications that can produce positive revenue streams to offest the costs of operations and investment.
The most visible target applications are the so called 3D or Dull, Dirty and Dangerous missions. As an example of such a need, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, helicopter pilots flew rescue and damage assessment missions. Today, several are dead from radiation exposure or complications from secondary infections contracted after exposure to radioactive gas. UAV operations would obviate this unnecessary loss of life.
In the US (and throughout the world) a complex matrix of industrial vendors, universities, federally funded organizations and governmental agencies are working to introduce flight by UAVs into the National Airspace System. NASA, the lead funding agency, working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration the lead Regulatory Agency, is coordinating consulting and standards development organizations including the RTCA (SC-203) and the ASTM (F-38 Committee) to produce standards to insure safe UAV operation.
NASA in 2004 funded the creation of the Access 5 organization, established to introduce High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV flight within 5 years. Access 5, supported by the UAV National Industry Team (UNITE), is consolidating the industries technology and evolving standards to operational test and evaluate HALE UAV flight in four distinct phases of which two are fully funded through 2006. NASA's Dryden Flight Center, the Ames Research Center at Moffat Field, including the UAV Applications Center (UAV Collaborative), and many organizational components are contributing to this effort. Access 5 funding has been eliminated by H.R. 2862 and congress has requested a final report by Feb 15, 2006. (See here for links to the Access5 Final Report series)
The goal, of all organizations participating in this coordinated effort, is to achieve a level of flight safety, by UAVs of any class, to a safety level equivalent to that achieved by piloted aircraft. The industry is not far removed from that standard.
To begin to understand and appreciate the complexity of the issues involved and the organizational structure that has been applied to solve them should at a minimum read the Access 5 - HALE ROA Concept of Operations document and the NASA Ames Research Center's NASA National Airspace Concept Document as starting points. (both are large downloads).
UAVs devolve principally from military missions and operational technologies. Therefore, to understand the genesis of future UAV development, it is important to read the document Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005 - 2030 recently published by the DoD. (Large Download). The DoD point man on UAS, Deke Weatherington summarizes the DoD Roadmap in this presentation. For very important background please also review the OSD UAS NAS Integration Plan.
Currently, there are only two legal ways to fly TUAV, HALE and MALE UAVs in the US NAS.
All flight in the Unites States National Airspace System is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under jurisdiction granted by law and the FAA regulates flight under the provision of Law codified within Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 - Aeronautics and Space.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the lead regulatory agency principal supervising authority for all flight in the National Airspace System. In January 2006, the FAA has recently named a 26 year agency veteran, Mr. Keneth D. (Doug) Davis, Assistant Branch Manager, Avionics Systems, AIR-130, to head up and fully staff a new UAS organization tasked with managing the safe introduction of UASs into the NAS. Mr. Davis first tasks will likely be to formulate interim guidance to allow initial UAS flight in the NAS, under controlled conditions, and to define a UAS Certification Plan (Roadmap)for all classes of UAVs flying in all classes of airspace, perhaps starting with clas G airspace, and to formulate long term regulatory policy governing UAVs.
Current FAA UAV policy is specified in AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01, published on September 16, 2005. Currently (as of Mar 01, 2006), the Airworthiness Certification process for HALE and MALE UAVs is currently the only available track for Civil (Commercial) UAV flight since the review of COAs for civil missions has been placed on hold for all applications except those submitted by the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security and other public entities. The PSL in conjunction with the TAAC operates an Aeronautics Defense Systems Areostar under a COA granted to PSL as a public entity.
The primary track to a UAV operations ticket is via the standard Airworthiness Certification Process. Airworthiness Certification specific to UAVs is found on the FAA's website. See also the UAVM page on Airworthiness Certification procedures for additional information.
A secondary track was by obtaining a waiver from the FAA called a Certificate of Authorization (COAs). Flight under a COA is preceded by the airframe having achieved a lessor certification for airworthiness, e.g. an Experimental Certificate. The COA and the Airworthiness Certificate may both contain restrictions or limits to flight operations. The only COAs awarded for the US National Airspace System (NAS) are for public use (i.e. - Governmental use). No (0) COAs have been issued since September of 2004 and all non public (Government and Military) COAs are on hold. The only new COA applications being considered are from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. No new civil (commercial) applications are being processed. This is specified in AFS-400 UAS Policy 05-01.
In September of 2005 a significant development took place. The FAA issued to General Atomics' Altair UAV an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate for the first "File and Fly" use of UAVs in the US NAS in non-restricted airspace. While a significant milestone, in context it is important to recognize, that this is a first step in the process. GA's Predator Class UAVs represent the Gold Standard for UAVs and have incorporated technology, systems and training that probably exceed the standards the FAA will likely promulgate to regulate UAVs in the US NAS, in all of the important categories including Airworthiness, DSA - Collision Avoidance and Pilot Certification. Further, Altair flight is restricted in terms of weather conditions and altitudes.
In December 2005, Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc. announced that its Eagle Eye TR918 Unmanned Aircraft System, or UAS, has received it's certificate of airworthiness for experimental flight testing from the Federal Aviation Administration. This certification represents the first certificate of airworthiness for experimental flight-testing ever issued by the FAA to a vertical lift UAS.
The Global Hawk enjoys and flys under a military airworthiness certificate. There is a memorandum of understanding that the FAA will accept military airworthiness and pilot certification generally outlined in the following document FAA 7610.4 K - Special Military Operations.
These are not "typical" UAVs but a superset of platforms of the UAV industry as total technology systems. Several other Experimental Tickets are pending or are in various stages of construction and review.
Until very recently, the FAA has predicted that UAVs would operate routinely under visual flight rules by 2007-2008 (SFAR-1) and using DSA collision avoidance (SFAR-2) by 2010-12 . The SFARs were intended to replace the COA process.
The SFAR regulatory development process and time frame (2008-2020) has recently benefited from pressure from the UAV industry and public stakeholders to expedite the introduction of UAVs into the NAS. In fact the FAA is contemplating a new process to authorize small UAV flight, based upon issuing Regulatory guidance, which may be in place by as soon as February-March 2006. This policy guidance, anticipated to take form as AFS 400 UAS Policy 05-02 or a modification to AC 91-57 or both has not yet been finalized however it will likely not contain a size weight classification similar to the Nov 2004 Airspace Integration Plan proferred by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This plan contains a three tier classification system, based on size and weight, and a similar weight based classification regulatory approach is anticipated in forthcoming guidance. There is some debate within the FAA and RTCA about the appropriateness of a weight classification schema. In fact some are promoting a paradigm based upon airspace operations classification as a better overall catergorization schema. Ultimately weight has relevance for airworthiness risk. Mass X velocity equaly kinetic energy. Onboard fuel represents potential energy. Combined they, considering the acceleration due to gravity, represent a considerable component of airworthiness risk. The final guidance may reflect some combination of both reference frames. Further, the FAA is in the process of revising the current Advisory Circular AC 91-57, governing flight of model avaition, which may have implications for regulating small UAVs. Finally, it is interesting to see how a plan. authored by flight proponents differs from plans proferred by those tasked with safety regulation.
At a recent ASTM F-38 meeting in Toronto, Mr. Davis announced a new FAA UAS Roadmap by October 2006. A recent pre announcement tocontractors for a new UAS Roadmap RFP is announced here.
About UAVM.com and UAV MarketSpace
Any guidance for authorizing UAV flight in the NAS will likely reflect the European learning curve, similar to the system currently operational in Europe under the EASA A-NPA guidelines for small UAVs (150kg/330 lbs) and some mix of the OSD UAS NAS Integration Roadmap Schema segragating UAVs into three tiers based on size and weight. This is a major change and very useful for the UAV industry's economic development and adoption cycle.
UAVM.com is organized into categories of interest related to FAA and European regulatory requirements and developments, airframe platforms, component subsystems containing avionics including autopilots and auto landing technologies, DSA collision avoidance, aeronautical payloads including optical and Infrared sensors, telemetry, ground control systems, and significantly the collective Commercial (Civil) Applications experience base which is growing monthly including the economics of operation. The UAVM site also contains information on Centers of Operational or Research Excellence and finally a Resources section containing a wealth of links and valuable topical information including published standards and reference works.
Check our UAV NEWS weblog (BLOG) regularly for the latest news specific to the commercial use of UAVs or technologies that have direct impact on civil use missions. (RSS syndication to begin in May 2006).
Commercial (Civil) UAV applications are manifold and virtually untapped. This is an exciting time for every entity involved with UAVs.
We invite you to let UAVM.com be your continuing window into the explosive growth projected for this exciting new market opportunity for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.