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Unmanned Aircraft Exclusion: FAA Waivers Granted at a Slow Pace

Silas is a safety inspector overseeing UAS operations. Received his Master of Science in Safety and MBA degree.

UAS Exclusion: Slow Waiver Process

UAS Exclusion: Slow Waiver Process

Unmanned Aircraft Exclusion: FAA Waivers Granted at a Slow Pace

Operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System requires technology and regulations to integrate the devices into the crowded airspace safely. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with multiple industries to identify solutions to remove barriers. However, the FAA hasn’t resolved technology issues that mitigate the hazards, reduce risks, and reach a consensus among the regulator. Non-standard practices exist through approving technology that detects danger in the sky (Hampton, 2014). The FAA is overseeing thousands of UAS projects to reach consensus with several brand names such as Google, Amazon, Walmart, UPS, and FedEx.

Package delivery has become a problem for the FAA to solve. It doesn’t help that collaboration with brand names places the federal agency in a vulnerable position while political agendas overcome and affect safety standardization. Without standardizing processes or accepting technology standards developed by industry, waivers will continue to differ as subject matter experts determine their interpretation of an acceptable safety level.

The mitigation strategies developed for several UAS operations vary throughout the industry. An accepted level of risk that differs from one operator to another presents problems. The problems will continue to exist today and into the future without accepting a technology standard that enables a detect and avoid strategy to prevent a mid-air collision.

UAS waivers have overtaken most resources within the agency. Determining whether the applicant’s operation provides an acceptable level of risk presents a challenge that requires solutions. More importantly, the industry and the FAA must collaborate on an acceptable technology and standard to detect and avoid aircraft. Having an accepted standard provides the best path toward beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

What Next to Expand UAS Operations

What Next to Expand UAS Operations

The article highlights the FAA has not reached a consensus with stakeholders to determine the minimum performance standards to expand unmanned aircraft operations. Without published standards, applications must submit for a waiver to operate outside of the 107 law.

The most sought-after waiver requests include night operations, operations over people, beyond visual line of sight, altitude increase, and operations from a moving vehicle. Without accepted standards, the technology growth is at a standstill to progress forward (Hampton, 2014). The analysis will determine whether the FAA should accept a standard or continue with the current waiver process.

Over the Years

Over the Years

Over the Years

Over the last few years, the FAA only authorized public unmanned aircraft and civil modelers. According to the FAA (2016), commercial operations were forbidden due to the limited regulatory structure until the release of part 107. Many hobbyists were interested in operating a business and unmanned aircraft to photograph real estate, marketing, and film production. The UAS extends into new business opportunities as the purchase cost offers reasonable rates and the return on investment prevails from a business perspective.

Airspace

Airspace

Developmental Changes from Unsegregated to Segregated Airspace

The FAA is still in the early stages of determining the effects of UAS sharing the airspace with manned aircraft and the implementation of technology that support UAS (NBAA, 2017). The 107 regulation states the remote pilot will give way to manned aircraft, although the FAA has moved toward requiring a manned pilot to give way to unmanned aircraft. The change elevates risk as research has shown that manned pilots cannot see unmanned aircraft because of the UA size. Therefore, accepting a technology becomes paramount to allow each type of aircraft to give the right of way.

Next, the FAA integration process for the last decade suggested mixing manned and unmanned aircraft. However, the FAA may change the outcome and segregate airspace for UA operating at 400 feet or below. Segregating airspace presents a challenge as part 91.119(d) authorize manned helicopters to operate at less than 500 feet. Helicopter emergency response missions allow operations at 300 feet above the ground. The altitude limitation remains in the helicopter part 135 operating specifications. The change in philosophy will require rule-making that takes years to finalize.

Further FAA discussions become necessary to determine who gives way among manned and unmanned aircraft. Per the regulatory requirement, unmanned aircraft must give way to manned aviation under part 107. The shift in philosophy will require a change in policies, procedures, and regulations.


UAS See and Avoid Philosophy Change

UAS See and Avoid Philosophy Change

Years ago, UAS operations represented uncharted territory as limited policies and procedures exist. There was a solid base of knowledge concerning aviation principles, airspace management, and legal constructs, although additional information on the use of UAS integration remained almost non-existent (McMinn, 2015). Next, the development of comprehensive UAS training programs become necessary to fulfill the operations such as Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (McMinn, 2015). In other words, the pilot must have the ability to view the aircraft visually without the aid of binoculars or technology.

Also, the UAS regulation requires a remote pilot certificate to operate under part 107. However, expanded operations beyond the pilot's visual capability required more emphasis on technology certification and training effort. The UAS industry demanded technology to expand UAS operations instead of limitation of visual line of sight flights (McMinn, 2015). The FAA has not accepted technology standards nor developed training protocols to allow BVLOS operations.

Industry Growth

Industry Growth

Industry Growth

For operations outside of part 107, the FAA issues Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) remains a slow process. Times have expedited, although many operation analyses require human analysis from the FAA to approve complex operations. Each waiver is analyzed on a case-by-case basis and deemed approved, denied, or requires further information.

In 2014, there were approximately 300 public aircraft authorizations, and the number has increased to 9,605 waivers for civil operations (FAA, 2018). Today, in 2021, over 25,000 wavier applications have passed through the FAA for approval. Over 18,000 disapprovals and 5,300 approvals exist. The top five waiver requests include night, operations over people, BVLOS, altitude, and operating the UAS from a moving vehicle (FAA, 2016).

The process will worsen over time without the FAA accepting technology standards to allow the type of operations the industry requires. Without the proper FAA manpower, the process requires a review to determine whether the organization can oversee safety without established standards to approve waivers and authorizations. Over a million UAS registrations exist, and thousands of waiver applications have flooded the FAA facility. A problem of this magnitude and the number of applications require additional manpower to review each waiver.


UAS Growth Industry

UAS Growth Industry

The percentage of waiver requests approved by category included night, operations over people, BLVOS, altitude, and from a moving vehicle (FAA, 2016). Requests for night waivers from 7,044 applications and 1,544 of the waivers were approved. Operations over people hosted 2,847 applications, and 11 were approved. The BVLOS requests exceed 1,700 waiver applications and 16 approved. Out of the 994 applications, only 18 were approved for altitudes above 400 feet. Operations from a moving vehicle included 770 waiver requests, and five were approved (FAA, 2016).

In 2021, applicants submitted 14,000-night waivers with 3,600 approved and 8,300 disapproved. Next, operations over people submission include 5,200 waivers. Over 4,400 disapprovals and 203 approvals exist. BVLOS operations resemble the same trend with 2,900 disapprovals and 114 approvals. The amount of applications continues to climb while the disapprovals outnumber approvals. Without accepted standards for each waiver type, standardization becomes the challenge for the federal agency overseeing the waiver process.

Accept Standard

Accept Standard

Accept Standards to Expand Innovation

The FAA has met a few of the milestones since the 2012 public law release date (FAA, 2012). As the FAA authorizes limited UAS operations on a case-by-case basis, the challenge remains the same to expand the technology without using the slow-paced authorization process. The development of technology enhances connectivity with aircraft and reaches a consensus to expand the industry. The FAA is required to ensure the NAS is safe while the industry desires to expand technology and not thwart innovation. The FAA must usher the wave of technology use by developing standards that increase safety. To align innovation rule-making and accepting technology standards will enable the expansion of UAS commercial operations.

UAS Innovation spurs desirable advancement for several industries. To achieve and embrace technology, the FAA must develop the standards and certification criteria to support the safety concerns. See and avoid becomes the last defense against a collision in flight. Therefore, the certification of equipage and standards become necessary to enable digital intelligence into the airspace.

How to Prepare for the Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot Test

How to Allow UAS to Operate BVLOS

  • How to Allow UAS to Operate BVLOS
    This article presents a solution for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations through technology certification. Producing certification standards will enable UAS to integrate into the airspace at a faster pace than what has happened over the pa

How to Operate UAS Over People and What is Needed to Expand 107 in the Future

References

  • FAA (2012). Public Law 112-95. 112th Congress, An Act. Subtitle A, General Provisions. Section 332. Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ PLAW-112publ95/pdf/PLAW-112publ95.pdf
  • FAA (2016). Advisory Circular. Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_107-2.pdf
  • Hampton, M. (2014). FAA’s Progress and Challenges in Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System. Assistant Inspector General for Aviation. U.S. Department of Transportation. https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/UAS%20Statement_Master%20File_12-9-14_Final_508.pdf
  • McMinn, K. (2015). Naval PostGraduate School. Considerations for Domestic Law Enforcement Implementation of a UAS Program in the Proposed FAA Regulatory Environment of Integration into the National Airspace System. https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=72588
  • NBAA (2017). Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). UAS Integration Efforts Continue to Advance. https://www.nbaa.org/ops/uas/nbaa-uas-integration-efforts-continue-to-advance.php

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