On April 19, 2016, FAA hosted the first day of its 2016 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Symposium. The purpose of the Symposium is to provide a forum for UAS industry and stakeholders to provide input to FAA decision-makers on topics related to UAS integration.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta opened the Symposium by discussing, in part, the agency’s three main goals with respect to UAS integration: (1) safely enabling UAS operations in the National Airspace System (“NAS”); (2) facilitating the integration of future technological advancements; and (3) ensuring that the United States retains a leadership role with respect to the development and operation of UAS. Importantly, he also mentioned that the new small UAS rules may be available by the end of “spring”.

Subsequent panels discussed airspace management, aircraft certification, and technological challenges.

  • With respect to airspace management, FAA explained that it’s near term goal is to safely enable low altitude operations as quickly as possible. By comparison, FAA’s long term goal is to: (1) require UAS operators to submit flights plans for operations in low altitude airspace; and (2) determine how to safely enable simultaneous UAS operations in the same area (both in visual line of sight and beyond the operator’s line of sight).
  • FAA’s discussion of certification focused on its efforts to reduce risk as much as possible by balancing the risk of an incident against the risk that the high cost of certification may prevent innovation that may make aviation safer.
  • The final panel focused on technological challenges to the integration of UAS into the NAS, including: (1) developing the necessary technology to give UAS the capability to “sense and avoid”; (2) determining the best methods for communications between the operator and the UAS to facilitate over the horizon operations; and (3) implementing a UAS Traffic Management System.