The US private jet industry is opposing any steps to introduce drones that would reduce or restrict access for manned business aviation aircraft to airspace or airports.
“It’s a delicate balance,” said Sarah Wolf from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), which has participated in joint working groups tasked with developing guidelines for the integration and operation of unmanned aerial systems (UAV) since 2006.
“While we all would like to see where the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stands on the issue, I appreciate that the agency is obviously taking a thorough and measured approach towards getting this right,” she said.
Wolf noted that NBAA members have shown increasing interest in UAS applications, including at two well-attended sessions devoted to the subject during the 2014 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition. “We heard a lot of great questions during NBAA2014,” she said. “NBAA has been involved in this process for some time now. Above all, we want to make sure that airspace remains accessible to our members,” she said. “The easiest and quickest answer may not be best one.”
As the FAA continues to contemplate formal regulations affecting UAS operations, the agency has moved forward on granting limited exemptions for about a dozen companies to operate UAS in the filmmaking and construction industries, and to conduct oilrig flare inspections.
2015 saw no action by the FAA providing guidance for integrating small, unmanned aircraft systems (s-UAS) into the national airspace system (NAS), something which the NBAA said leaves a burgeoning industry without clear direction on how to proceed toward adopting UAS for a variety of roles.
“The FAA continues to make strides toward safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the nation’s airspace system,” noted FAA administrator Michael Huerta in a January 2 blog post on the US Department of Transportation website, adding that the agency “hopes to issue a rule for public comment very soon” regarding s-UAS.
US Congress had originally mandated that the FAA have a plan in place to integrate UAS by September 2015, a timeline the agency will not meet. The FAA already missed its initial deadline to introduce a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) affecting the operation of s-UAS weighing under 55 pounds, stating at that time a draft notice would likely come by the end of 2014.
US legislators have expressed frustration with the slower-than-mandated rollout, stating their concerns in a December 2014 hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee that lack of such guidelines may allow other countries to take the lead on UAS implementation.
Bob Lamond, NBAA director of air traffic services and infrastructure, said he was disappointed that the FAA missed a timetable that the agency had expressed confidence in during the December congressional hearing.
“Many NBAA member companies are eager to use UAS to support their businesses, so naturally NBAA supports efforts towards safely integrating this new tool for business aviation,” he said. “That said, we have always supported a deliberate approach with integrating all UAS operations into the National Airspace System (NAS) to ensure that safety is maintained. The last thing we want is for anyone to rush this key decision.”
With safety always the top priority, NBAA has long maintained that it is imperative that any introduction plan for UAS be thoughtful, deliberative and focused on safety. This means UAS should not share the same airspace with manned aircraft unless they meet the same certification and airworthiness standards, including the ability to take timely directions from air traffic control, and to sense and avoid other aircraft and UAS.