Standards organization RTCA will establish a new group in the next several weeks to expedite the development of standards that will enable unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to fly in unrestricted airspace in the U.S. The new group—Special Committee 228—will further the work of an earlier group that is being discontinued because of concern over its slow progress.
SC-228 will be tasked with developing minimum operational performance standards (Mops) for the airborne “sense-and-avoid” and command and control aspects of remotely piloted aircraft. It will take over the initiative from SC-203, which was established in October 2004 to define overarching minimum aviation system performance standards (Masps) for UAS, but is being discontinued. Masps specify the characteristics of an overall system and the minimum test procedures needed to verify its performance. Mops provide standards for specific equipment and components.
The standards developed by RTCA, which functions as a federal advisory committee, are incorporated by the FAA in its regulatory and advisory documents, and provide guidance to designers and manufacturers in building and certifying equipment. RTCA special committees are comprised of representatives from industry and government.
Margaret Jenny, RTCA president, said the sense-and-avoid and command and control working groups of SC-228 will focus on a subset of UAS and a subset of their missions—generally larger unmanned aircraft transitioning through the lower altitudes of Class D, E and G airspace to Class A airspace above 18,000 feet MSL, or to special use airspace. The sharper focus should help expedite the development of Mops, in turn supporting the Department of Defense’s (DOD) need to move unmanned aircraft from their bases to training ranges and the FAA’s mandate from Congress to introduce UAS into the National Airspace System by September 2015.
Out of concern that SC-203 was slipping in meeting its deadlines for “deliverables,” the RTCA formed an ad-hoc committee consisting of representatives from the FAA and DOD, unmanned aircraft manufacturers Boeing and General Atomics, avionics manufacturer Rockwell Collins and technical organization Mitre Corporation to review its mission and recommend ways to expedite the work. The process led to a decision to establish SC-228 with new terms of reference outlining its mission.
“One of the problems, we all finally determined, was that we had given SC-203 an impossible task, which is to define standards for all kinds of vehicles and all kinds of missions,” Jenny told AIN. “It was just intractable; it was just too big to get their arms around. We’re going to try to do this differently. We’re going to develop Mops for a subset of probably the simpler mission and the more predictable mission.”
SC-203 will be discontinued upon the submission of the first part of a UAS system-level Masp document in June, Jenny said. Its work will then serve to inform the new committee in its deliberations. John Walker, who has served as co-chairman of SC-203, said the committee’s work has also been adopted as guidance by the European Organization for Civil Aviation Equipment (Eurocae) Work Group 73 for unmanned aircraft systems and the International Civil Aviation Organization UAS study group.
“Although we are morphing into a new committee focused on Mops, the foundational work is in place,” Walker said. “It’s not like gee whiz, what have you done for seven years, and (then) throw it out.”