Hill Day speakers tout benefits of UAS; AUVSI's Lamb provides TOP overview

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During AUVSI’s Hill Day luncheon, speakers touted the benefits of UAS, especially after major events such as Hurricane Florence.

“We’re going to see a lot more of this,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who represents New Jersey's 2nd congressional district.

Over the last 24 years, LoBiondo has represented the FAA’s Technical Center— which he says is “really the heart and soul of aviation in the country.” LoBiondo credits AUVSI for helping the FAA realize the benefits of UAS technology.

“AUVSI has been a leader in helping me understand the economic opportunities that were being held back for so many years,” LoBiondo said.

For his 24 years of service, LoBiondo was presented with AUVSI’s Distinguished Service Award from Brian Wynne, AUVSI’s President and CEO.

UAS have proven to be beneficial in states effected by Hurricane Florence, but in other areas of the country, the technology is being tested as part of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), including in Kansas.

Rep. Ron Estes, who represents Kansas’ 4th congressional district, highlighted the Kansas Department of Transportation working with AirMap under the UAS IPP to look at how to take the next step forward, and how to support the growing community of UAS taking to the skies.

“It’s kind of that ‘all in’ approach that we’ve kind of implemented from the state that allowed us to be selected as one of those pilot programs working with the US Department of transportation,” Estes said.

Estes also pointed out a company in Salina, Kansas that is looking at ways to use UAS to help first responders. The company is looking to have a UAS that can carry 20 pounds and fly for up to three hours. The UAS will be capable of carrying a cell phone and the technology needed to track back the thermal imaging that may come back from searching for victims, and having the GPS capabilities to look at that.

This opportunity to test this innovative technology makes for exciting times not only for Estes, but for the entire state of Kansas.

“I’m excited to be part of this new frontier, to help bring aviation to the next step in terms of looking at drone technology and some of the unmanned capabilities that we’ll have,” Estes said.

TOP Overview

Two years after attending her first AUVSI event—Hill Day 2016—Tracy Lamb returned to Hill Day 2018 as AUVSI’s Vice President of Regulatory & Safety Affairs and Chief Pilot of the Remote Pilots Council. She provided the luncheon audience with an overview of the organization’s Top Operator Program (TOP).

According to Lamb, TOP is a result of AUVSI listening to the industry, and realizing that safety needs to be a priority for UAS operations to be accepted on a wider scale.

“Safety is a great unifier,” Lamb said. “It will unify all the divisions of unmanned aircraft under one umbrella, which is safety.”

TOP’s goal, Lamb explained, is to unify the industry under safety, professionalism, and reliability, to ultimately create an output of trust.

“Trust not only to us as people operating the system, but the community, the general public,” Lamb said. “And that’s what the Trusted Operator Program is all about, generating trust in our community.”

As the industry moves toward an Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) environment, there are an endless amount of applications for this technology, including package delivery, BVLOS flights, and operations over people, making a unified approach to safety and risk management that much more important.

“Everyone is coming into the space, but at the end of the day, if we don’t have a unified approach to the safety and risk management in order to actually get the industry to unify on that, it’s not going to go forward as fast as we want it to,” Lamb said.

Before TOP, the industry grappled with how to determine what makes a good remote pilot operation, and answering the question: what does a good remote pilot look like? Lamb says that pre-TOP, it was very much like the hamburger market, as some hamburgers looked good, while others didn’t.

With this in mind, TOP brought together 197 individuals from 57 companies and said, “we don’t want your secret sauce, but come together, and help us get united as an industry, so that we can move forward on safety protocols that we all agree on…so we came up with a great hamburger.”

Those individuals agreed that the key components of TOP need to be safety, professionalism, reliability and trust.

“We need to quantify and qualify those ingredients, and prove it to our customers, and the community,” Lamb said.

There are three levels of the Trusted Operator Program: Level 1, 2 and 3. All levels are directly proportionate to the level of risk involved with their operation.

Level 1 includes basic part 107 operations that don’t require any waivers. These operations are conducted in “fairly simplistic, noncomplex environments in familiar territory,” Lamb says.

For Level 2, the risk matrix level goes up a little bit, as anything that requires a waiver falls under level 2 (such as infrastructure inspections). Level 3 is the top level—pun intended, Lamb says—as this level is for complex operations, even if they don’t require a waiver.

Being that it caters to the whole commercial UAS industry and what it’s doing, TOP is “like no other,” Lamb says, as it goes a long way to certifying both the individual and the organization as a whole. TOP gives the organization a “proven level of safety” that they can reach back to, providing that value not only to their customers, but also the industry as well.

An integral part of TOP is the Protocol Certification Manual, which is a result of people from different standards’ groups coming together to form this manual. Two organizations thus far have been certified, and the public launch of the manual is scheduled for November.

“We’re very excited that this is not a concept anymore; this is an actual live, certification program that is changing the way training providers train their remote pilots, and giving them an easy, simple, checklist of standards that they can follow,” Lamb said.

For next year’s Hill Day, Lamb says that she wants to come to Capitol Hill with a group of certified remote pilots to the Trusted Operator Program. Dressed in the same uniform—similar to the Air Line Pilots Association—the group is going to tell congress, lawmakers and staffers what they’re doing for the remote pilot community, in terms of “ensuring safety, trust and reliability, and therefore, giving us more power to advocate, and make more practical regulations,” Lamb says.

Until then, the industry can expect to hear a lot more about TOP coming down the line.

“The Trusted Operator Program is one program that you’re going to hear more of as we move forward with the emphasis on safety and generating a safety culture and trust within our UAS community,” Lamb said.