FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta offered a glimpse into the agency’s plans for integrating unmanned aerial vehicles into U.S. domestic airspace during the August 7 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Las Vegas, but details about precisely how the FAA plans to make the integration of UAVs into domestic airspace work left some skeptics scratching their heads.
Huerta said, “There is so much technological change happening in aviation right now that the FAA recognizes we need to change the way we do business. We need to work across agency departments to implement NextGen. And one of the most innovative aspects of NextGen is unmanned aircraft systems.”
Huerta detailed the establishment of the agency’s new Unmanned Systems Integration Office in the safety office as the one-stop portal for all things UAV. “This office…[is] working on a rule to integrate small UAVs into our airspace,” he said.
Paul Schultz, CEO of Hawaiya Technologies in Aiea, Hawaii and a UAV manufacturer, was not convinced of anything in the acting administrator’s remarks. “This is all just happy talk. There are so many complex issues, like safety, related to implementation of UAVs that they haven’t even touched yet, like how anyone will pay for this. NextGen doesn’t have enough money in its budget to support this effort. Will it come from the DOT or DHS? Maybe,” Schultz said.
FAA sources believe the U.S. could see as many as 30,000 drones operating in domestic airspace by 2020. “Unmanned drones operating with airliners?” Schultz questioned. “Do you know how easy it is right now for some crazy person to take control of a drone through its GPS system? We’ll need to add coding to GPS to prevent such actions. Sure the technology exists, but to implement it nationwide is a huge problem.”