Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), now commonly referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) by federal agencies, standards bodies, and military organizations worldwide, are again the hottest topic of discussion in the military/aerospace (mil/aero) community.
What has the industry, and the greater public, buzzing? The prospect of sitting in a window seat of a commercial passenger airliner, glancing out the tiny window to your left or right, and seeing a remotely operated unmanned aircraft. This scenario could become reality, in less than three years, and many people are apprehensive. It’s not just Joe Q. Public that’s up in arms, either; air traffic control operators, military pilots, helicopter owners and operators, and other aerospace professionals have voiced concerns.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Section 332) calls for the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). In fact, it specifies that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation consult with representatives of the aviation industry, Federal agencies that employ unmanned aircraft systems technology in the NAS, and the UAS industry on the development of a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system. The deadline for this safe integration of civil UAS into the NAS, although desired “as soon as practicable,” is September 30, 2015.
This geek doesn’t envy the FAA. Its UAS integration plan needs to take into account avionics technologies and subsystems, including sense-and-avoid capability; rulemaking, operator licenses, and vehicle registration; certification, flight standards, and air traffic requirements; and more.