Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have long been used over Iraq and
Afghanistan. Now local police and Homeland Security want to use them in
the U.S. for aerial surveillance.
This raises two interesting issues: privacy and safety. The privacy one
is familiar to Politech readers. If you have a fleet of UAVs overhead on
a clear day, they could track when your car leaves your driveway, where
you go, who you visit, how long you stay, how fast you drive, and add
all that data to a massive information store that could be available to
any Fed for the asking. (Networked terrestrial cameras and facecams
raise essentially the same issue.)
The safety issue involves sharing airspace with pilots carrying passengers.
Photos of UAVs:
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's writeup of a North Carolina
county's use of an UAV for monitoring its citizens:
Summary of a House hearing on this today is below.
The purpose of this hearing is to discuss the use of Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aerial Systems in the National Airspace
System (NAS) and the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) to provide safety oversight and air traffic control over these
systems in the NAS.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (UAVs) have been referred to in many ways: remotely piloted
vehicle, drone, robot plane, and pilotless aircraft are a few such
names. UAVs, which may have a wingspan as large as a Boeing 737 or be as
small as a radio-controlled model airplane, are defined by the
Department of Defense (DOD) as powered, aerial vehicles that
* do not carry a human operator,
* use aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift,
* can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely,
* can be expendable or recoverable, and
* can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.
There are two different types of UAVs: drones and remotely piloted
vehicles (RPVs). Both drones and RPVs are pilotless, but drones are
programmed for autonomous flight. RPVs are actively flown =97 remotely =97
by a ground control operator.
While historically UASs have been used primarily by the DOD in military
settings outside of U.S. borders to enhance warfighting capabilities,
there is growing demand to operate UAVs in the integrated NAS. In fact,
Congress has repeatedly called for and funded programs to study and
eventually mandate the use of UAVs in support of homeland security
missions and for other purposes. Federal agencies, such as the Customs
and Border Protection Service (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Agency, the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Transportation Security
Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and State and
Local law enforcement agencies are interested in utilizing UAVs in the
NAS. Public uses include border security, port security, surveillance,
drug interdiction, search and rescue, fire fighting, and other law
enforcement and homeland security initiatives. Some of these activities
are taking place today; for instance, the CBP conducts UAV surveillance
operations along the Nation=92s southern border; a NASA-sponsored program
has produced civilian UAVs to monitor pollution and measure ozone
levels; and the Department of Energy is looking at UAVs outfitted with
radiation sensors to detect potential nuclear reactor accidents.
UAVs are also an emerging segment of the commercial aviation industry
and commercial entities would like to be able to operate UAVs in the
NAS. There are many possible commercial uses of UAVs. In fact, the FAA
acknowledges that manufacturers and operators are conducting research
on, or are designing, aircraft that could fill niche markets unimagined
just a decade ago. According to the FAA, some of the research and
development activities the commercial aviation industry already performs
include supporting law enforcement, homeland security, firefighting,
weather prediction and tracking activities.
ROLE OF THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION
The FAA has sole authority over the safe and efficient use of the NAS.
The FAA is responsible for overseeing the safety of the civil airspace,
including operations by the military, government, private pilots and
commercial entities. To this end, the FAA must take appropriate actions
to ensure the safety of the public, which includes the flying public, as
well as people and property on the ground.
Public Uses of the Civil Airspace - Certificate of Waiver or Authorization
According to the FAA, when the military or a government agency wants to
fly a UAV in civil airspace (outside of Special Use Airspace or Military
Operation Areas which are =93no fly=94 areas and therefore not integrated
with other operators), the FAA examines the request and issues a
Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), generally based on the
* The COA authorizes an operator to use defined airspace for a
specified time (up to one year, in some cases) and includes special
provisions unique to each operation. For instance, a COA may include a
requirement to operate only under Visual Flight Rules (VFR).
* Most, if not all, COAs require coordination with an appropriate
air traffic control facility and require the UAV to have a transponder
able to operate in standard air traffic control mode with automatic
* To make sure the UAV will not interfere with other aircraft, a
ground observer or an accompanying =93chase=94 aircraft must maintain visual
contact with the UAV.
The COA process has made possible research and development efforts and
provided a means to introduce UAVs into the air traffic system. This
process has aided the FAA, other government agencies, and the UAV
manufacturers in identifying potential safety issues. Identified issues,
such as the ability to =93detect, see and avoid=94 other traffic, need to be
addressed through further technological advancements and additional
research and development efforts. Currently, the COA process is not
available to commercial entities.
Public Uses of the Civil Airspace =96 Temporary Flight Restrictions
In order to address a request by the CBP to conduct UAV operations along
the southern border, the FAA established a Temporary Flight Restriction
(TFR) along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona and New Mexico. The
approximately 300 nm-long, 17-nm wide in most places, corridor is to
prevent U.S. Customs and Border Patrol UAV aircraft from colliding with
other civilian aircraft. The TFR is in effect from 12,000 to 14,000 feet
and is active from 5 p.m. until 7 a.m. daily. The TFR is scheduled to be
in effect until December 31, 2006, and may be renewed next year.
Commercial Uses of the Civil Airspace
To address the increasing needs of the civil market and the desire by
civilian operators to fly UAVs in the NAS, the FAA has set up a UAV
office and is developing new policies, procedures and approval
processes. The FAA anticipates having draft UAV guidance in two years.
The approach is to have the appropriate level of oversight without being
overly restrictive in the early stages.
More immediately, the FAA is reviewing certification requests from
several UAV manufacturers. The first airworthiness certificates in the
=93Experimental=94 category (for research and development, crew training, or
market survey) were issued in 2005.
There are a number of other issues facing the FAA related to the
emerging commercial UAV industry, including:
The FAA has identified two primary UAV safety issues that must be
addressed for them to operate safely in the integrated civil airspace.
* The need for proven UAV command and control redundancies should
there be a disruption in communication or should the operator lose
contact with the vehicle; and
* The need for reliable =93detect and avoid=94 capability so that UAVs
can sense and avoid other aircraft.
Short term: The use of COAs, experimental certificates and TFRs are
intended to be temporary fixes. As it stands today, the lack of UAV
standards, operational procedures and regulations is problematic. The
demand for UAV operations is growing, and the short-term safety
processes put in place, while allowing the FAA to gather important
operational data, are not feasible in the long-term. Permission to fly
UAVs in the NAS typically takes 60-90 days and permission is often
accompanied by operational restrictions. In addition, FAA regions are
not always interpreting the existing regulations the same way, leading
to inconsistent regulation and enforcement. The FAA, other government
agencies, UAV manufacturers, and commercial aviation stakeholders must
continue to look for innovative solutions to address the safety issues
related to UAVs in the NAS.
Long term: The FAA has asked RTCA, Inc., a private, not-for-profit
corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations for the agency
on technical issues, to help develop UAV standards. RTCA will answer two
key questions: How will UAVs handle command and control, and how will
they detect and avoid other aircraft? Both of these questions are
dependent upon the development of technology and operational procedures.
In the long term, it must be demonstrated to the FAA that UAVs can
operate at the equivalent level of safety as a manned aircraft. This
process will take time. All the stakeholders, the FAA, DOD, DHS, other
Government agencies, the NAS users, and the UAV industry must work
together to achieve this safety goal.
Research and Development Programs and ACCESS 5:
Until recently, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
sponsored a government-industry project called ACCESS 5. The project
brought together NASA, the FAA, the DOD, the DHS and the UAV National
Industry Team (UNITE) to integrate UAVs or Remotely Operated Aircraft
(ROA) into the national civil airspace via a four-step process. The
first two steps of that process were funded by NASA in the
High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Remotely Operated Aircraft in the National
Airspace System (HALE ROA in the NAS) project. The HALE ROA in the NAS
project was established in 2004 to develop policies, procedures and
technical standards to enable remotely or autonomously operated aircraft
to fly reliably and routinely in civil airspace with an equivalent level
of safety as planes flown by on-board pilots. The last two steps in
Access 5 were not part of NASA's HALE ROA in the NAS project, and
funding them was left dependent upon the success achieved in the first
The HALE ROA in the NAS project was funded primarily by NASA's
Aeronautics Mission Directorate, with a planned budget for steps one and
two of about $103 million through fiscal year 2009, or about 75 percent
of the project's estimated cost over that five-year period. Industry
members of the Access 5 project were contributing funding, with roughly
75 percent of the project's funding from NASA and 25 percent from industry.
Unfortunately for UAV research and development efforts, NASA has
recently announced a comprehensive restructuring of its research
programs. As such, Access 5 has been defunded and important UAV research
and development work has stopped. To date, no other agency or entity has
taken on, or agreed to, fund the project.
The use of UAVs in the civil airspace is a global issue. The FAA and
other Government agencies continue to work closely with their
international counterparts to harmonize standards, policies, procedures,
and regulatory requirements.
Recreational Model Aircraft
Appropriate oversight of model aircraft operations must be considered as
the FAA and interested parties develop standards and regulations for the
use of UAVs in the NAS. The term =93model aircraft=94 is defined by the
Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) as a non-human-carrying device
capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, not exceeding the
limitations established in the Official AMA National Model Aircraft
Safety Code, exclusively for recreation, sport, and/or competition
activities. The AMA has been in existence since 1936, and is a
non-profit organization whose purpose is to promote the development of
model aviation as a recognized sport and worthwhile recreation activity.
The AMA coordinates with the FAA and self-polices the operation of model
aircraft in AMA sanctioned events. Some of the operational requirements
for AMA sanctioned activities include:
* A maximum takeoff weight of a model aircraft, including fuel, is
55 pounds, except for those flown under the AMA Experimental Aircraft Rules;
* Operations shall not take place higher than approximately 400
feet above ground level, when within three (3) miles of an airport
without notifying the airport operator;
* Yielding the right-of-way and avoiding flying in the proximity of
full-scale aircraft and utilizing a spotter when appropriate;
* Operators of radio control model aircraft shall control the
aircraft from the ground and maintain un-enhanced visual contact with
the aircraft throughout the entire flight; and
* No model aircraft shall be equipped with devices that would allow
for autonomous flight.
The AMA=92s position is that model aircraft should not be included in the
standards and regulations for UAVs, and that in establishing the
definition of UAV, the focus should be on the purpose of the vehicle
operation as opposed to the size or ability of the vehicle.
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