UAVs and sliced airspace

The time is approaching when manned aircraft will be sharing the skies with unmanned drones on a regular basis in the United States.

Late last year the FAA named six UAV operators to test unmanned aircraft flying in the U.S. National Airspace System (NAS). The testing sites and ranges have not been made final. General aviators should pay particular attention to where these ranges are being proposed.

Airspace is precious. The way it gets sliced up and labeled determines how easy or difficult it can be to fly from Point A to Point B. So when airspace gets changed or the rules governing how we can use a particular kind of airspace gets put under the regulatory microscope, I pay close attention. The Devil is always in the details.

The national policy that covers the use of UAVs domestically is N8900.227, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operational Approval” (to download a copy click here). The single most important page in the entire document when it comes to the treatment of manned aviation is page 18.

UAV operation priorities in the NAS can be broken down into three sets of airspace. In Class A airspace the UAVs must be on an IFR flight plan and comply with same rules as everybody else flying up there. In Class G airspace UAVs must comply with the same basic rules as every other flyer and comply with 14 CFR 91.126. But when it comes to airspace classes B, C, D, and E, the rules change in favor of manned aviation.

In controlled airspace, other than Class A, the national policy states that UAVs “must not impede, delay, or divert” other operations flying in that airspace. That requirement does put a mighty big burden on those doing the UAV testing.

But since there is no FAA-certified see/sense-and-avoid system for UAVs so they can share in flying safely with pilots flying in accordance with 14 CFR 91.113, it does seem to yield a tangible benefit.

An important question to answer in the coming months is whether or not manned aviation is impeded, delayed, or diverted by sharing the sky with UAVs. Time will tell.



  1. Steve Poirot says

    We’ve been flying some small UASs under Certificates of Waiver and Authorization (COWA)s in Northern Alaska to do LiDAR mapping and to inspect some infrastructure. The COWAs have additional limitations beyond 8900.227, including no night flight, no SVFR and Class E visibility requirements in Class G airspace. We are always flying below 400′ AGL, which is appropriate for mapping and inspections.

  2. says

    UAV’s will bring an astounding degree of chaos to the aviation policies that we now know.
    so called desk pilots in control of flying bombs infiltrating IFR flight patterns are a ridiculous scenario.

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