Woolpert tasked with FAA-sponsored research to develop guidelines for large UAS operations at US airports

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is funding research by the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) to develop airfield design guidelines for large unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). ACRP has tasked Woolpert with providing information primarily for airport managers, planners, engineers, UAS operators and other stakeholders.

Woolpert will evaluate large UAS vehicles and operations of varying types and sizes to identify where impacts to current design standards exist and publish guidance for the airport industry. Airfield design challenges, issues and considerations specific to the operational needs of large UAS will help determine whether to integrate or segregate, and identify gaps in planning, environmental impacts and infrastructure criteria. A large UAS is an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) that weighs 55 pounds or more, including payload.

Woolpert Vice President and Principal Investigator Thomas Mackie said airports are becoming interested in the impact and facility needs of large UAS as they evaluate how manned and unmanned aircraft will operate in the same airspace and potentially use the same infrastructure.

“We will look at the current design criteria for airports, advisory circulars, FAA orders and engineering briefs to define what needs to be addressed when you add large UAS to the fold,” Mackie said. “There are differences as simple as turning radius and taxi time to wholescale infrastructure needs.

“In addition, many large UAS are going to be electric. There will be environmental, noise, communication, fire and rescue support, navigation concerns, surface infrastructure, support facilities, power and battery support, and other unique storage needs. This guidebook will ensure airports can identify gaps in their existing infrastructure and what could be required to support large UAS operations.”

For this project, Woolpert has assembled a senior advisory team of airport design and planning experts who also have direct experience in integrating UAS into airport operations. Faith Group and Ricondo will assist in research and development. The team’s findings will be published as a guidebook anticipated for late 2021.

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