Collaboration will be key to technology, regulation for airspace integration
Government-industry collaboration will be needed going forward to integrate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System, both for developing technology for such critical functions as remote identification, and for establishing government regulations that will help the industry grow.
That was one of the messages repeated at the second day of the third annual FAA UAS Symposium, cosponsored by the FAA and AUVSI and held this year in Baltimore.
AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne kicked off the day with a panel discussion including regulators from the Department of Transportation and congressional staffers.
Derek Kan, undersecretary for policy at DOT, said technology is disrupting every mode of transportation under the agency, from the air with drones to the road with self-driving cars and trucks.
To meet the need for oversight with a desire to not constrict the industry, Kan said DOT has started defining its overarching principles, which include three key statements: safety is the highest priority; the DOT must remain technology neutral; and the agency will seek to have collaborative discussions to answer questions such as, what technology is needed in unmanned traffic management?
“We are not in the business of picking what specific technologies should win out,” Kan said.
Mike Reynolds, from the Senate Commerce Committee, said lawmakers there want to “preserve what we have on the manned side, while introducing disruptive technology” such as drones — maintaining safety but enabling innovation.
Maintaining the special status of model aircraft remains in both the Senate and House versions of the bill, although Reynolds said quadrotors, the most popular type of small UAS, are quite different from the traditional aircraft models, which enthusiasts often build themselves.
“It’s a challenge and hopefully we’ll thread that needle,” he said.
Bailey Edwards, the new FAA assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and the environment, said “collaboration and actually listening to our new stakeholders,” is part of the agency’s approach.
“The dialogue needs to continue from the regulators and the community,” Reynolds said. He said there were some “struggles” integrating some new players on the Drone Advisory Committee, but “over time, it’s going to be good. We need law enforcement, and everyone else, at the table, talking to us.”
Earl Lawrence, executive director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, led a standing room only panel about the remote identification for drones, which he said will be a key enabler for activities like beyond visual line of sight flights.
“How can you do BVLOS if you have no idea where your aircraft is?” he asked. “At the very elemental level, that is something [remote i.d.] that we all know that we need in this very complicated airspace in the United States.”
Lawrence said the point of the panel was not to make any policy announcements, as the FAA is still working through the recommendations from a remote i.d. Advisory Rulemaking Committee.
Long term, the FAA may decide on a series of approaches. For something like drone races that are coming to Baltimore, the facility where the racing is happening may be the point of contact, rather than requiring any new equipment on the lightweight racing drones.
“They aren’t going to put heavier things on their aircraft,” Lawrence said. “You can do it by location, just like we do air shows now.”
Another option might be to run the identification process from the ground control unit, which could even be an operator’s phone.
“We have a variety of ways to identify manned aircraft today … what we’re looking at is a continuum of ways to identify the operators of unmanned aircraft,” said panelist Steve Bradford, the FAA’s chief scientist for NextGen. “You can see the standard concept there.”
Remote i.d. will likely be part of the pending UTM systems, which will be a series of interacting data systems. One of those storage divisions could be used for identifications, which authorities could tap into.
Below: AUVSI's Wynne, left, talks with the DOT's Kan at the morning session of the FAA UAS Symposium. Photo: AUVSI