This January, a personal unmanned aerial system (UAS) crashed on to the White House lawn. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intended to bring forward new regulations for the public and commercial use of UAS in 2015, this incident seems to have accelerated the timetable.
On February 15, the FAA released proposed rule changes. The key components of the new proposed rules include safety and reasonableness for the operators, the community, and the UAS manufacturers.
Currently, to fly any UAS system, permission from the FAA can be granted after the public safety agency applies for a certificate of authorization (COA). The operator of the UAS is required to possess the flight hours or medical rating of a private pilot’s license. These proposed changes, if approved, should be welcomed by public safety agencies seeking to operate these devices.
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According to the new FAA proposal:
- UAS weighing up to 55 pounds would be allowed to fly within visual line of sight of operators during daylight hours without the need of a COA.
- The UAS must stay below 500 feet in the air and fly less than 100 miles per hour.
- Operators who are flying UAS would need to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautics test, and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The FAA’s statute prohibits the operation of an aircraft unless the aircraft is registered. Pursuant to this statutory prohibition, the proposed rule change would require small unmanned aircraft to be registered with the FAA using the current registration process. In order to register a small unmanned aircraft with the FAA, the aircraft’s owner would have to submit to the FAA an aircraft registration application providing information about the aircraft and contact information for the aircraft owner. This registration would need to be renewed every three years.
It is important to know that the proposed rule changes do not just impact public safety agency operations. The following are examples of possible small UAS operations that could be conducted under this proposed framework:
- Crop monitoring/inspection
- Research and development
- Educational/academic uses
- Power-line/pipeline inspection in hilly or mountainous terrain
- Antenna inspections
- Aiding certain rescue operations such as locating snow avalanche victims
- Aerial photography
- Wildlife nesting area evaluations
Need for New Agency Policies
Such new operations may require public safety agencies to incorporate new policies and procedures for handling routine and non-routine UAS encounters. For example, public safety personnel may find UAS operating above active crash scenes or be dispatched when UAS are seen flying above resident’s backyards.
How should/will law enforcement personnel respond to such encounters and/or calls? Who will be notified about such incidents? Should the device be impounded? Will local agencies be empowered to enforce FAA rules and regulations? These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered.
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The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) projects the industry will create 70,000 jobs with $13.6 billion in economic activity during the first three years after UAS fully take to the airspace.
Training Needs for Operators
To be successful when integrating UAS, competent training will be the key component. The FAA proposes requiring operators to take a basic aeronautical test and be of sound mind—a vague requirement at best.
The training that needs to be in place would require a certified training organization with vetted, experienced personnel delivering safety awareness training to include, but not limited to:
- Hazard identification
- Risk mitigation
- Crew resource management
- Human factors
- Operational planning
- Safety management
Since safety is paramount for all involved, this should be the minimum courses required for UAS operators. Due to the fast pace of technological advancements, this training needs to be required on an annual basis to ensure standard operating procedures, regulations, policies, and evolving concerns are being addressed.
Manufacturers of these devices need policies and regulations to provide safe operation and integration into the airspace as well. For example, they need to have lost link procedures (a contingency plan if control is disrupted) programmed into the software. It would also be essential to have backup systems for controls in the case of an emergency situation.
At this point in time, anyone with an idea and a garage can build a device and fly it as a hobbyist, creating a window of opportunity for disaster. With a lack of guidance from the FAA, more incidents like the incident on the White House lawn will occur, which may slow the progress of successful integration into the airspace.
About the Authors:
Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the United States and the Middle East. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, in addition to post-traumatic stress and online learning.
Professor Anthony Galante is a former SWAT officer and current law enforcement officer with more than 10 years of service. He holds a Masters of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Professor Galante teaches at three major universities and is the lead instructor at the Unmanned Safety Institute, which is a strategy and technology firm delivering consulting, training, and analytics for clients in commercial industries and law enforcement seeking to integrate UAS into their daily operations. Offices are located in Maitland, FL and Washington, D.C.