FAA UAS Symposium round-up – a step closer to understanding UTM priorities in the USA

“We’re on track to announce the selection of the first 10 participants of the drone integration pilot programme in May 2018,” according to US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, addressing the audience at the FAA’s Baltimore UAS Symposium (March 6- 8) by means of a recorded video.  Operations over people, night flight, and flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) were on the way.

In addition to updates and guidance relative to Part 107, UAS in the National Airspace System, beyond visual line of sight operations (BVLOS), the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) programme and applying for waivers and airspace authorizations – along with highlights on drone delivery and urban mobility – the following topics attracted extensive attention at the event:

  • The Future of UAS Remote Identification – Led by Earl Lawrence, FAA UAS Integration Office, Remote ID was established as the most crucial component of UAS integration and UTM, moving forward. Options for implementation were discussed, as well as more advanced conops to address concerns of the law enforcement and security communities. Controversy emerged in the discussions about DJI’s AeroScope and the FAA Remote Tracking & ID ARC Report of late 2017. The general trend seemed to point to no integration with ATC (workload), no use of ADS-B (cost, spectrum saturation), and the utilization of cell phone-like simcards or serial numbers, in a network structure to be provided and operated by third-parties, not by the FAA.
  • UAS Traffic Management – UTM was the subject of two distinct events – one panel of a more technical nature, chaired by Steve Bradford, FAA Chief Scientist for NextGen, and with Parimal Koperdakar, Senior Technologist Air Transportation Systems, NASA, on board, and a Morning Keynote Session with Gur Kimchi, VP Amazon Prime Air. While the panel focused on FAA’s perspective and concept for a UTM ecosystem and its operational scalability in real world airspace, Gur Kimchi stressed the criticality of safely, yet rapidly, enabling a multitude of business applications and use cases, sharing his vision for the practical, constructive steps operators and service providers can take to achieve a federated model for UTM. He also reported that NASA was successfully executing TCL 3 (Technical Capability Level 3) flight tests for the UTM Program in Nevada, in that very week.
  • Drones at Airports – Led by Winsome Lenfert, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports, the panel discussed great benefits provided and unique risk posed by UAS operating near airports, along with what airport authorities can, or cannot, do to ensure safe and efficient operations. Dean Schultz has reported on the success of community outreach programmes in the Reno-Tahoe International Airport area, while Chaim Van Prooyen reported on extensive use of drones for various inspections and maintenance tasks at Atlanta International Airport. Maurice Hoffman, FAA Director Air Traffic Procedures, said the FAA is taking a ‘wait and see approach’, as a new report from the Pathfinder Research Program is expected soon.
  • Global Integration – Chaired by Tricia Stacey, Director International Division, FAA UAS Integration Office, the panel discussed the importance of collaboration and harmonization across governments, industry and organizations like ICAO and JARUS. Brendan Schulman, VP Policy and Legal Affairs DJI, Matt Fanelli, Director Strategy Skyward, and Lorenzo Murzilli, Manager Advanced Technologies FOCA/JARUS, shared valuable insights on the opportunities and challenges for harmonization, and which standards and regulations the authorities should focus on to facilitate UAS operations across borders. Brendan Schulman proposed that a lower-category on sUAS weight be established (say, 1 to 2 Kg., to be agreed upon), to keep those out of the ‘system’, and Lorenzo made the case for the adoption of JARUS’ Specific Operational Risk Assessment Framework, SORA, as an opportunity for global harmonization in this domain.
  • UAS Detection Technology – Panel chairperson Angela Stubblefield, Associate Administrator for Security and Hazardous Materials Safety, started out by stating that the number of drone detection technology solutions has grown to 235, from a dozen companies three years ago. Representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice discussed current technologies, limitations on applying them and the path forward. The general takeaway is ‘detection, yes; mitigation, no’, new legislation in Congress is needed, the major roadblock being the so-feared Section 2209 of FAA’s Extension, Safety, and Security Act (FESSA).
  • A Guide to Spectrum Policy – Kicking off with a ‘one size does not fit all’ remark, chairperson Ian Atkins, FAA Spectrum Engineering and Policy Office, stated that, except for Part 107 strictly compliant sUAS, spectrum for reliable and secure C2 comms must be licensed and with primary allocation. Options for small, large and very high altitude UAS were discussed, including commercial wireless (LTE 4G, 5G), aviation-protected (as per WRC-12 and -15, FCC), and the recently published TSO_CNPC, as an outcome of work conducted by the RTCA SC-228 on Minimum Operational Performance Standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Data Link (C2), establishing L-Band and C-Band solutions, a first hand announcement by Stephen Van Trees, FAA Chief Aircraft Architect, responsible for the respective Program Office.

By Eduardo de Vasconcellos

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