WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA has released its 72-page “road map” for determining how to permit unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) — more commonly known as drones — to share the skies with other aircraft by 2015, but early indications show many problems to overcome before the air has a mixture of vehicles.
The plan will work to determine what “regulations, technologies, standards, and policies” will be needed to accommodate safe operation of the drones. Six test sites, expected to be selected by year’s end, will conduct research into how best to safely integrate UAS systems into the national airspace over the next several years and what certification and navigation requirements will need to be established.
For 20 years UAS have flown under special waivers for activities such as firefighting, border patrol, military training, and testing and evaluation. Locations of these flights have been carefully and narrowly restricted.
Some communities have already indicated they want to restrict drones. It is not clear in the plan how much latitude a state or city will have to limit or place addition restrictions on drones.
In another document, the FAA notes that its authority to ensure safe aviation operations “generally preempts states or local governments from enacting a statute or regulation on matters reserved exclusively to the federal government.” The same document says states and local governments can “still restrict activities within their own governments or institutions, such as police forces.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta unveiled the plan at a forum sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, which is the trade association representing manufacturers of aerial vehicles, engines, and related components for the civilian and military markets. AIA has been advocating the civilian use of drones, according to Marian Blakey, president and CEO of the association (and a former FAA administrator).
Early experiences and comments on the plan and test sites, Huerta said, will influence the agency’s more permanent policies.
Privacy is a major issue. Two days before the FAA released its plan, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation calling for transparency on the use of drones and privacy protection to ensure that drones will not be used to spy on Americans. Markey, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FAA, said a state-by-state patchwork of plans “makes no sense,” adding that strong safeguards are needed to protect American’s privacy “before tens of thousands of drones take to the skies.”
The FAA predicts 30,000 UAS will be operating in domestic airspace within the next 20 years.
Much of this activity can be expected in and around major population centers where airspace is already considered to be crowded and landing facilities are limited.
Continued access to all airspace for general aviation holds the attention of GA groups, including officials at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“Specifically, we continue to insists that UAVs be certified with a standard airworthiness certificate, be flown by a certified pilot and in compliance with current operating and airspace requirements,” said Melissa Rudinger, vice president for government affairs.
The FAA says it welcomes comments during the test period. Other than the AIA group of manufacturers, aviation groups have been reticent to make public announcements regarding the drone issue.