A Better Roadmap to Incorporate UAV’s into the National Airspace System.

From thoughts stemming from a recent interview, I’d like to expand the discussion of the FAA’s Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap.

It is neither my intention or desire to sound like an arm-chair quarterback here. In addition to offering some observations, I’ll offer some suggestions and feel free to comment, add your own thoughts, and let’s propagate a discussion regarding the integration of UAV’s in the national airspace.

First and foremost, there are some assumptions and definitions within the FAA’s Roadmap that simply don’t measure up to the realities. The FAA suggests that 95% of all UAV’s operating will be small UAV’s, which they define as less than 10 lbs., but when you read the roadmap, almost all of the standards, processes, and procedures are clearly designed for large scale, satellite data-linked, big-budget operators.

Based on the Roadmap, it appears there is an exclusion for small UAV operators that ADS-B transponders won’t have to be integrated (& more importantly powered) into our UAV’s.Yes, I agree that the reality is that 95% of UAV operators will operate on-site, or within range (FPV) of their UAV. The overwhelming majority of UAV operators won’t be using a satellite uplink.

The reality, is that even under the 10 lb threshold (which I think is high), there needs to be another several subcategories:

  1. Private use, within LOS (your average recreational user)
  2. Commercial use, within LOS (Aerial Photographers & Videographers & a lot of other emerging uses)
  3. Commercial use with FPV capabities. There needs to be a demonstration of both the UAV and some level of training and certification for the operator.

One of the great things about UAV’s like the DJI Phantom, is you can find a dealer, assemble your UAV, charge the LiPo’s, and go flying. The problem with that, is with every mistake, with every crash into something or worse yet, someone, you damage the perception of an emerging industry, largely by either ignorance or carelessness. Not that government policy is every concerned with a balance of safety and barriers to entry, I want to advocate that the FAA search for just such a balance. I want people to have access to small UAV’s and be able to enjoy flying them. At the same time, I want there to be some basic procedural requirements for operating UAV’s and make sure there is proficiency among the users.

DJI has done a remarkably good job with what could be considered modern-age, computer-based training modules in the videos from DJI, led by their CEO, Colin Guinn. It gives user a basic understanding and step-by-step orientation for initial stages of flying. When I suggest training for small UAV operators, especially private use, something along these lines would be a great foundation. After watching the videos, which basically equate to ground school, I would suggest spending an hour with some sort of instructor, with sign-off capability, followed by a basic certification. This would effectively create a reduced version of the existing airman certification system. Building on top of that, additional training and demonstration of skills for Commercial Operators (both LOS & FPV). With those efforts toward base-lining training and proficiency in place, I believe there would be adequate safe guards in place to minimize risk to the non-participating public.

We are literally in the process of building a foundation for an entire industry as we prepare to integrate UAV’s into the National Airspace System. It is my sincere hope that can be done in a responsible and safe way, while being mindful of not excessively high barriers to entry.

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