Top

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Introduction:

  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), formerly referred to as "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles" (UAVs) or "Drones," are having an increasing operational presence in the NAS
    • Once the exclusive domain of the military, UAS are now being operated by various entities
  • Although these aircraft are "unmanned," UAS are flown by a remotely located pilot and crew
  • Physical and performance characteristics of unmanned aircraft (UA) vary greatly and unlike model aircraft that typically operate lower than 400' AGL, UA may be found operating at virtually any altitude and any speed
  • Sizes of UA can be as small as several pounds to as large as a commercial transport aircraft
  • UAS come in various categories including airplane, rotorcraft, powered-lift (tilt-rotor), and lighter-than-air
  • Propulsion systems of UAS include a broad range of alternatives from piston powered and turbojet engines to battery and solar-powered electric motors

Integration:

  • To ensure segregation of UAS operations from other aircraft, the military typically conducts UAS operations within restricted or other special use airspace
  • However, UAS operations are now being approved in the NAS outside of special use airspace through the use of FAA-issued Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) or through the issuance of a special airworthiness certificate
  • COA and special airworthiness approvals authorize UAS flight operations to be contained within specific geographic boundaries and altitudes, usually require coordination with an ATC facility, and typically require the issuance of a NOTAM describing the operation to be conducted
  • UAS approvals also require observers to provide "see-and-avoid" capability to the UAS crew and to provide the necessary compliance with 14 CFR Section 91.113
  • For UAS operations approved at or above FL180, UAS operate under the same requirements as that of manned aircraft (i.e., flights are operated under instrument flight rules, are in communication with ATC, and are appropriately equipped)

Operations:

  • UAS operations may be approved at either controlled or uncontrolled airports and are typically disseminated by NOTAM
  • In all cases, approved UAS operations must comply with all applicable regulations and/or special provisions specified in the COA or in the operating limitations of the special airworthiness certificate
  • Operations At Uncontrolled Airports:

    • At uncontrolled airports, UAS operations are advised to operate well clear of all known manned aircraft operations
    • Pilots of manned aircraft are advised to follow normal operating procedures and are urged to monitor the CTAF for any potential UAS activity
  • Operations At Controlled Airports:

    • At controlled airports, local ATC procedures may be in place to handle UAS operations and should not require any special procedures from manned aircraft entering or departing the traffic pattern or operating in the vicinity of the airport
  • In addition, a recently approved agreement between the FAA and the Department of Defense authorizes small UAS operations wholly contained within Class G airspace, and in no instance, greater than 1200' AGL over military owned or leased property
  • These operations do not require any special authorization as long as the UA remains within the lateral boundaries of the military installation as well as other provisions including the issuance of a NOTAM
  • Unlike special use airspace, these areas may not be depicted on an aeronautical chart

Conclusion:

  • There are several factors a pilot should consider regarding UAS activity in an effort to reduce potential flight hazards
  • Pilots are urged to exercise increased vigilance when operating in the vicinity of restricted or other special use airspace, military operations areas, and any military installation
  • Areas with a preponderance of UAS activity are typically noted on sectional charts advising pilots of this activity
  • Since the size of a UA can be very small, they may be difficult to see and track
  • If a UA is encountered during flight, as with manned aircraft, never assume that the pilot or crew of the UAS can see you, maintain increased vigilance with the UA and always be prepared for evasive action if necessary
  • Always check NOTAMs for potential UAS activity along the intended route of flight and exercise increased vigilance in areas specified in the NOTAM

References: