Dan Elwell, Seattle, WA
November 8, 2017
Drone Advisory Committee
The need for us to integrate unmanned aircraft into the NAS continues to be a national priority. After the hurricanes, drones became a literal lifeline. They gave us an operational window that was a game changer at every level. Same with the wildfires in California. We were seeing things in real time at a time when minutes mattered.
Two weeks ago today, the President and Secretary Chao announced the UAS Integration Pilot Program—which will create a mechanism for the private sector and state, local and tribal governments to make experience-based and data-driven contributions to integrating drones.
Once the pilot program becomes official with its announcement in the Federal Register today, we expect to see applications start pouring in. And as Earl and I commented at Secretary Chao’s pilot program launch event last week, we hope to be truly surprised by the number of applications we receive. If that happens, the work of this Committee will become more important than ever. The FAA is looking to you to help us move safety forward, both technologically and operationally. As you know, tech and ops advice often have policy and budget implications. But going forward, we will not be asking you for policy or funding advice. This group is not about policy and politics. This is a place where we need you to leave your company credentials at the door. But we do need the DAC’s insight on how to integrate unmanned aircraft into the NAS. The big question is simple and profound: How are we going to meld the ops?
I know you have your day jobs, which is why your service to this nation is so very deeply appreciated. To that end, going forward, our predominate goal is to harvest your collective technical and operational expertise.
Task Group 1 was initially asked to boil the ocean. Undoubtedly, we asked you to work through a seemingly impossible task. But I do feel compelled to say that the lack of consensus with Task Group 1 was neither unexpected nor a fatal flaw. Congress itself couldn’t reach agreement on many of the questions we asked of you.
Task Group 1 gave us a valuable perspective from both sides of the coin. I learned a long time ago that differences of opinion help everyone to step back and reconsider their position. There’s value in that. With 5,000 aircraft in the air at any given time, safety must come first. That’s the lens for this advisory group. That’s why differing views are actually helpful.
Since last December, Task Group 1 has looked at enforcement of Federal Airspace regulations and state and local interest in and response to UAS … and the enforcement of Federal safety and airspace rules and regulations.
That’s some fairly deep water they were swimming in. I know you’ve logged a lot of hours. Thanks to Brendan [Schulman] and John [Eagerton] and the team for yeoman’s work.
With the announcement of the UAS integration pilot program, the UAS landscape has changed. To keep pace, we will soon reconstitute Task Group 1 and give them a new tasking more closely aligned with providing us the technical and operational recommendations we need to implement the pilot program.
There’s a lot of bright minds with bright ideas on how to help aviation take its next big step. I’m looking forward to it.
Since the DAC last met, we continue to see robust demand for commercial operations under part 107. The numbers tell the story. We have issued 66,000 remote pilot certificates since the rule became effective. To date, we have issued 10,000 authorizations for controlled airspace operations and 1,100 operational waivers.
Most of these operational waivers are for night operations. We are increasingly able to grant more waivers for more complex operations, including one to DAC member CNN for operations over people. We are working closely with the Department of Transportation to find ways to shorten the Part 107 waiver and exemption process.
We’re also making some regulatory headway with the UAS in Controlled Airspace ARC. The ARC just held its second meeting two weeks ago. It will continue to hold regular meetings over the next 15 months.
This ARC continues the work begun under the original UAS ARC’s Airspace Management subgroup. It will provide recommendations to the FAA on integrating larger UAS into the NAS. It’s going to develop and recommend scenarios that encompass the most desired operations. It will identify gaps in research and development needed to inform successful integration into controlled airspace. And it will develop and recommend up to 5 prioritized changes to policies or procedures … to spur integration.
Turning to low altitude authorization and notification capabilities—LAANC—we receive between 500-600 airspace authorizations and 100 airspace waiver requests per week. We process an average of 300-400 authorizations and waivers every week, but that’s from a backlog of 8,000 requests. This is not a sustainable process for either the FAA or operators.
With that in mind, we’re very excited for the prototype launch of LAANC. On October 23, we began evaluating this capability at the first four facilities: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Covington, Kentucky; Nebraska’s Lincoln Airport; Reno-Tahoe International Airport; and Norman Mineta International Airport in San Jose.
Over the next three months, we’ll add six more air traffic facilities to the LAANC prototype evaluation. All told, we’ll cover about 50 airports. AirMap and Skyward – both of whom are on the DAC subcommittee—are already participating in this evaluation, and we anticipate more companies will join them in the prototype evaluation.
For the record, LAANC itself is a component of a UAS Traffic Management, which itself is a necessary next step in UAS integration. UTM is a separate, but complementary, system to the Air Traffic Management system that utilizes industry’s ability to supply services under FAA’s regulatory authority where these services do not exist. There will be a cooperative interaction between operators and the FAA to determine and communicate real-time airspace status.
To keep you updated, the UAS ID & Tracking ARC submitted its report to the FAA last month. We’re reviewing it. I know many of the DAC members were very active members on the ID ARC. Thank you—again—for your hard work.
Despite what the media reports have said, the report is much less divisive than suggested. The vast majority of the dissent is focused on the issue of who should have to be equipped with identification and tracking technology. Given the volatility of the topic, this comes as no surprise. Disagreements on this topic were largely divided between those who felt that any ID & tracking requirement must be levied on all UAS users – including modelers flying under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft – and those who agreed with the capabilities-based threshold outlined in the report.
I think putting negative spin on the report diminishes the progress we can make from the report itself.
Before we head into our sessions, let me thank each of you for your service to our nation. Drones are complicated, and pulling together what will become the future of aviation is no small task. We’re writing a new chapter to the history of aviation. This is happening in real time, and you are part of it. With that, let me turn to Teri Bristol and Earl Lawrence.