The U.S. industry and government committee that was formed to define performance standards enabling unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to fly in unrestricted airspace will break into separate groups focused on component aspects of UAS because of concern over the committee’s slow progress.
RTCA Special Committee 203 (SC-203) was established in October 2004 to define minimum aviation system performance standards (Masps) for UAS that the Federal Aviation Administration would then use in developing its guidance to industry in the form of technical standard orders for equipment and advisory circulars for methods and procedures.
In a presentation to the Oklahoma UAS summit in Norman, Okla., on March 26, Carl Mikeman, president of the UAS National Industry Team (Unite), said SC-203 will be reformed to focus on the “sense-and-avoid” and control and communications aspects of unmanned aircraft. Unite represents major U.S. manufacturers of UAS. Mikeman also leads Northrop Grumman’s UAS airspace access team.
He described SC-203 as a “large organization” that makes decisions based on a consensus of its members. “Progress is painfully slow,” Mikeman said. “In fact, we just learned that SC-203 after seven or eight years is being dissolved and reformed as a group of special committees to address individual elements of unmanned aircraft flight: sense-and-avoid and efficient communications” with the ground.
RTCA president Margaret Jenny discussed the pending change at a plenary meeting of SC-203 on February 12. According to the meeting minutes, Jenny explained that the committee’s focus on developing Masps is “complex work based on the scope of the (committee’s) existing terms of reference. Ms. Jenny went on to say that there are some stakeholders, specifically the Department of Defense, who are concerned that product development is not happening fast enough.”
Jenny said an ad-hoc committee had been formed to review SC-203’s terms of reference “to determine how to potentially expedite its work.” The members of the ad-hoc committee include Jim Williams, head of the FAA’s UAS integration office and other FAA executives; U.S. Air Force Col. Juan Narvid; and representatives of UAS manufacturers Boeing and General Atomics, among others. “Ms. Jenny stressed that the Ad Hoc Committee does not want to lose the work that has been done to date in SC-203, and all current members will have an opportunity to stay involved, whatever the outcome,” the minutes state.
Williams also spoke at the plenary meeting. He said his organization within the FAA initiated a review of the SC-203 terms of reference last year to determine “how to more effectively refocus the group’s products based on needed standards,” according to the minutes. He noted the importance of ensuring that standards the Air Force is developing for airborne sense-and-avoid capability are compatible with the National Airspace System (NAS).
At his presentation in Oklahoma, Mikeman said that the congressional mandate to introduce unmanned aircraft in the NAS by 2015 “has been interpreted by the FAA as being small (UAS) systems only.” The agency has made that distinction for a number of reasons, “one of which is that the large-system issue, those (UAS) that fly above 400 feet, is a whole bigger problem. Secondly, there are not a lot of systems that size that are ready to be certified.”