The FAA has released its long-awaited Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Roadmap, the first step in integrating unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System. While the roadmap, which was mandated by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, marks an important milestone, full integration of UAS is still years away.
For more than a decade, AOPA has been advocating to ensure general aviation safety and access in the face of growing demand for unmanned operations. The association first became involved in the issue because of concerns that the commercial UAS industry would restrict traditional aviation operations by pushing for more special-use airspace or increase the cost of flying by mandating additional equipment for manned aircraft.
In 2004, AOPA formally requested that the FAA address those concerns. In response, the agency established an industry user group to develop recommendations on UAS integration into the aviation system.
“It’s critical that unmanned aircraft integrate with the existing aviation system. They need to be able to operate safely in the same airspace used by manned flights,” said AOPA Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger, who represents AOPA on the UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee. “Throughout this process we have insisted that UAS be certified with a standard airworthiness certificate, be flown by a certified pilot, and be flown in compliance with current operating rules and airspace requirements.”
The roadmap, released Nov. 7, addresses the need for regulations, policies, procedures, guidance, and training to support routine UAS operations, stressing that the system for managing UAS will continue to evolve along with the rest of the National Airspace System.
The roadmap also paves the way for the FAA to select six congressionally mandated UAS test sites where the practical work of integrating UAS into the airspace system will begin. Research conducted at these sites will help establish certification and navigation requirements for UAS. The FAA has also said it will require privacy policies for each of the six test sites after media reports questioned how the widespread use of UAS may impact privacy and civil liberties.