Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

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How Can Manned Aircraft and Drones Safely Share the Skies?

How Can Manned Aircraft and Drones Safely Share the Skies?

Industry and government are collaborating to ensure that manned and unmanned aircraft can share the airspace safely.

June 4, 2018

On Sept. 21, 2017, a drone collided with a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter near Hoffman Island, NY. The NTSB concluded that the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator “was intentionally flying the drone out of visual range and did not have adequate knowledge of regulations and safe operating practices.” A month later, a UAS collided with a charter aircraft in Canada.

“Increased UAS operations require increased vigilance from all operators,” said Sarah Wolf, CAM NBAA’s senior manager of security and facilitation. “Safe integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) is every airspace user’s responsibility.”

“The key is to make sure drone pilots, manned pilots and air traffic controllers all understand the importance of safety in the integration of the NAS,” continued Wolf. “Our industry challenge is how to locally educate the individuals that purchase a drone and don’t have the knowledge of their responsibilities in operating it in order to protect all aircraft from inadvertent encounters.”

Jason Schwartz, senior noise analyst at the Port of Portland (OR) and lead on the port’s UAS outreach initiatives, said, ”We need to find ways to safely share the skies, and the FAA and industry are working hard to develop systems, procedures and technologies to do just that. The few bad actors don’t represent the entire unmanned industry, and the industry is identifying methods to integrate UAS in ways that support aviation and the industry’s history of safety and innovation.”

INDUSTRY/GOVERNMENT COLLABORATION

Industry/government partnerships, educating UAS operators through social media outreach, and proactive communication from airports and air traffic control are just some of the efforts designed to facilitate integration of manned and unmanned aircraft operations in the NAS. A variety of industry organizations, including NBAA, are collaborating with regulators and other government entities to make peaceful coexistence a reality.

One of the most important government/industry partnerships is the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST), which is modeled after the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee and Commercial Aviation Safety Team, both of which have proven track records for improving safety in their industry segments. UAST hopes to achieve similar results by following these safety models.

The UAST is working to ensure the safe integration of UAS through data-driven safety enhancements. To that end, the UAST has formed three risk- reduction working groups: UAS Loss of Control, Injury Reduction and Safety Culture. The group also has launched an anonymous reporting system, which encourages UAS operators to self-report hazardous situations. A UAST subgroup will analyze data submitted voluntarily by industry members.

In addition, the UAST, along with the FAA and individual airports, are using social media as educational tools.

For example, B4UFLY, a free mobile app produced by the FAA, helps UAS operators determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect at the location they plan to fly. The app shows the special flight rules area around Washington, D.C., and indicates that UAS flight in that area is prohibited. (Providing easy access to airspace restrictions is important because, as was the case in the drone collision with the army helicopter, the UAS operator was unaware of temporary flight restrictions in place at the time.) The app also shows the locations of nearby airports, information especially important for safe separation of manned and unmanned aircraft.

KNOW THE RULES

Both manned and UAS operators should know the basic operating rules for small unmanned aircraft (FAR Part 107). Unmanned aircraft must:

  • Weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload, at takeoff
  • Fly in Class G airspace
  • Be kept within visual line-of-sight
  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  • Fly during daylight or civil twilight
  • Fly at or under 100 mph
  • Yield right of way to manned aircraft
  • Not fly directly over people
  • Not be piloted from a moving vehicle, unless in a sparsely populated area

How Can Manned Aircraft and Drones Safely Share the Skies?

CONTROLLERS, PILOTS SHOULD FOCUS ON SITUATIONAL AWARENESS

“Unmanned aircraft represent a new entrant into the NAS, meaning new policies and procedures must be implemented to address them,” said Steve Weidner, national UAS representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Weidner believes air traffic controllers can play a significant role in ensuring safe integration of drones in the NAS by issuing advisories on the automatic terminal information service or over other communication frequencies to indicate that UAS operations are being conducted at or near an airport. However, controllers can only advise of UAS operations if they’re aware of them.

“We still have reported sightings of drones in places where they shouldn’t be, including in and around airports, especially with the recent increase in hobbyist use of UAS,” said Weidner. “If a UAS operator will be flying within five nautical miles of an airport, they must notify the airport management and the air traffic control tower, if there is one on the airport.”

Reporting intended umanned-aircraft operations at or near an airport gives the airport’s management and control tower an opportunity to deny the operations if they deem them unsafe. If the operations are approved, proper notification also gives airport management and controllers a chance to provide appropriate advisories to other users of the airspace.

Despite these established rules designed to prevent manned aircraft and UAS conflicts around airports, pilots of manned aircraft operating in the integrated airspace system, especially in the terminal environment, need to be more vigilant than ever to detect UAS.

“Situational awareness is the key,” said Weidner. He recommends that pilots of manned aircraft “use the same level of vigilance you would normally use in a terminal area, but understand you are looking for something much smaller than an aircraft of similar size to your own.”

UAS RESOURCES

AIRPORTS AS PROACTIVE COMMUNICATORS

Airports are the logical local source of information for UAS operators in their area. One airport leading the way in educational outreach is Oregon’s Portland International Airport, which is managed by the Port of Portland. The port’s website includes general information regarding drone use and port-specific requirements. For example, the port prohibits recreational UAS operations on port property and requires a permit for commercial and public UAS operations on its properties.

In addition, the Port of Portland has established a pilot information hotline, providing information for both manned and unmanned aircraft operators. The port also manages a webpage for UAS operators and uses social media to share information, including regulatory changes and links to other resources.

“We’re partnering with the Oregon Aviation Department to develop an education and outreach program to help encourage safe and legal UAS operations within the state and to provide communities with information about drones to help dispel myths and address concerns associated with this new technology,” explained Schwartz. “Airports have a unique role when it comes to UAS operations because we work with airlines, general and business aviation and the military, as well as the community, so airport management should cast a wide net in their outreach efforts.”

In general, airports are being encouraged to take three steps to facilitate safe integration of UAS:

  1. Use the airport website and social media to reach UAS operators.
  2. Publish a phone number and email address so drone operators know how to provide required notification of flights near an airport.
  3. Educate airport staff on the basics of UAS rules so they can respond to questions from drone operators and the public.

There are a variety of ways to operate a drone, including Part 107, Section 336, waivers, etc. Learn more at www.faa.gov/uas.

TIPS FOR MANNED AIRCRAFT OPERATORS

  1. Learn the rules governing UAS. Spread the word about safe, legal operations whenever or wherever you can.
  2. Report sightings if a UAS is in violation of established rules, which will help the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team to obtain data to use in developing risk- mitigation strategies.
  3. Participate in local meetings and help educate the drone community on the way manned operations work.

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This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.