“NASA, FAA and partners need to research UAV operations on society” – new report

A report published by The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine presents a national vision for advanced aerial mobility, market evolution, safety and security management. Commissioned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Advanced Aerial Mobility: A National Blueprint (2020) provides findings and recommendations to help NASA and the aviation community foster an environment to maintain leadership in the development and deployment of new technology. It aims to ensure any problems arising from cutting edge technologies can be mitigated during development. The report considers all sectors including transportation, emergency response and cargo/package logistics. It says NASA plays a key role in public acceptance and community outreach.

In a summary just released, the report makes a number of recommendations and actions for NASA and other agencies to support a path forward for implementing advanced aerial mobility.

The report identifies the commercial cargo market as one of the visible initial adopters. This includes last mile local package delivery and middle mile cargo. It recommends NASA should establish strategic partnerships with cargo logistics providers and relevant manufacturers to focus on maturing technologies. It also recommends NASA coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to extend UAM management concepts to aerial mobility in all classes of airspace. This could take the form of a Master Plan.

Challenges to successful advanced aerial mobility depends on several factors including:

  • Safety assurance
  • Security protection
  • Social acceptance
  • Resilience to unexpected events
  • Environmental impacts including noise
  • Regulation
  • Scalability
  • Flexibility

The report also identifies a requirement for high-level architecture and definition of a series of capability milestones. These will support standards development and ultimately new flight rules for the National Airspace System.

Additional work is needed to quantify and address environmental issues in collaboration with several government agencies. This should be carried out in a coordinated way and completed in two years. The aim is to recommend a path to implementation that prioritises maximum public benefit.

The report supports the NASA Grand Challenge programme which includes demonstrations of candidate operational concepts and scenarios. It recommends NASA continue to build on and enhance this programme and formalise best practises, tools, resources and training programmes.

Looking at cybersecurity, the report calls for more powerful safety analysis tools to be applied to software-intensive systems. NASA could also develop software and hardware techniques and guidelines in cooperation with FAA certification experts to help verify complex software and hardware.

Additional areas of activity include research into contingency management; flight test resources; heliport and vertiport infrastructure; and data exchange standards.

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