Unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operators in the U.S. would have to file and fly instrument flight plans and equip their aircraft for position reporting with transponders and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) transmissions based on GPS. A pilot-in-command would be limited to controlling one aircraft, and autonomous flights would be prohibited under a concept of operations the Federal Aviation Administration is developing to introduce UAS in unrestricted airspace.
Edgar Waggoner, who represents NASA on an FAA advisory rulemaking committee (ARC) looking into UAS airspace integration, described the major guidance documents that federal agencies are developing during a February 26 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council UAS Subcommittee. The ARC reviewed and made recommendations to the FAA on a 2010 version of the concept of operations, which Waggoner described as “a very powerful document” with 14 “governing assumptions.”
In addition to filing IFR flight plans and equipping aircraft for ADS-B Out—regardless of the ADS-B mandate for manned aircraft by 2020, civil UAS operators would need airworthiness certification of their aircraft, according to Waggoner’s description of the concept of operations. There would be no new classes or types of airspace dedicated to UAS, and separation minimums applied in controlled airspace would also apply to unmanned aircraft. The UAS pilot-in-command would communicate with ATC using standard phraseology. The concept of operations is a “2018-2020” vision of the FAA’s, Waggoner said. It does not address line-of-sight operations by small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, which will be the subject of a separate rulemaking.
Waggoner said another major guidance document, a “comprehensive plan” setting out overall goals and objectives for the safe introduction of UAS into the national airspace system, missed the February 14 submission deadline set by Congress in the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation. However, the plan was approved through the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office and is currently being reviewed by the Department of Transportation. It calls for introducing small UAS through line-of-sight operations, and for routine UAS operations by public agencies to start in 2015 followed by civil or commercial operators in 2020.
The FAA established the 30-member ARC in June 2011 “to discuss, prioritize and resolve issues (and) provide direction for UAS operational criteria, support the NextGen Implementation Plan, and produce U.S. consensus positions for global harmonization.” The committee is chaired by R. Scott Dann of General Atomics and James Williams, head of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office. Its charter expires in June 2014.