The Federal Aviation Administration’s 2017 Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Symposium opened on March 27, 2017. Through the first two days of the conference, the FAA has focused on its efforts to work with UAS industry stakeholders to facilitate the integration of UAS into the national airspace system (“NAS”). In particular, the FAA has focused on three main issues: (1) the promulgation of performance based standards to accommodate future operations as UAS technology evolves; (2) the implementation of a technology based solution to facilitate compliance with FAA regulations and thus operation of UAS and further innovation; and (3) continued integration, as opposed to segregation, of various UAS into the NAS.
- Performance Based Standards. Instead of working to promulgate prescriptive standards that will tell the industry exactly what it must do in order to operate, the FAA is focused on performance based standards that offer minimum standards for performance. The intent is then to all industry to do what industry does best – determine the best way to meet those standards for the relevant operations. While performance based standards often take longer to develop, they are more flexible in the long run as they allow for changing technology without out changing the standards.
- Technology Based. The FAA is developing, and intends to implement, a web based platform referred to as the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability whereby the process for UAS operators to notify Air Traffic Control of flights within five (5) miles of an airport or to obtain FAA authorization to fly in certain classes of airspace becomes automated and thus expedites the issuance of requested notifications and authorizations. As part of this effort, the FAA will publish maps that indicate likely safe altitudes and distances around airports for UAS operations. In addition, the FAA is working to develop a single web portal that will allow UAS owners and operators to register their aircraft, apply for airspace authorizations and waivers, file accident reports, and keep abreast of the latest FAA news and announcements concerning UAS.
- Integration into the NAS. Beyond Visual Line of Sight (“BVLOS”) operations continue to be an activity that garners attention and interest from the FAA and industry. The FAA recognizes that a permanent segregation of UAS activities into a limited fraction of the NAS is not viable for the long-term. Therefore, the FAA is advocating, if not expecting, industry take on the burden of developing UAS BVLOS” capabilities that can be fully integrated into the NAS. The FAA expects that UAS integration will eventually lead to UAS activities being covered not only by Part 107, but other parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations based on the specific activity performed (e.g. package delivery under Part 135; precision agriculture under Part 137). This would be analogous to the current regulatory environment for manned aircraft that can be covered by Parts 91, 121 or 135 simultaneously.