In February, President Obama signed an aviation bill requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to make plans to integrate drones into American airspace.
The president included this provision in the FAA’s funding bill. Here is a link to an interview with John Villasenor, who has been writing about drones in Scientific American for a while now. This interview (from NPR), is mostly about privacy concerns due to this new requirement, but near the end of the interview, he hits on what we, as pilots, are most interested in – at least at this stage – which is the FAA’s mission to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.
The FAA, I think, has done a bang-up job with this, as flying is by far the safest form of transportation today. I’ll be very interested to see how the FAA plans to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into the National Airspace System (NAS). Here is an FAA Fact sheet from late 2010 (Fact Sheet – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)).
Immediately in this paper, the FAA states that “It is critical that aircraft do not endanger other users of the NAS or compromise the safety of persons or property on the ground.” Since UAVs cannot “see and avoid” – which is a primary requirement for manned aircraft – will the addition of UAVs to our airspace put a bigger burden on us – old-fashioned manned aircraft pilots – to see and avoid drones? What if the drone is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand? We won’t see that size of aircraft, even if we happen to be the best traffic scanner in the world. Will ADS-B play a role (such as providing Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS)-like “Resolution Advisories” to the drone and forcing the drone to move out of the way of other aircraft)?
This is a very interesting (and very important) topic for pilots to be aware of.
Let us know what you think about UAVs in the comments!