“Make no doubt about it: unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are coming, and they will offer an amazing opportunity for flight departments to expand their responsibilities and become more relevant to their companies,” said Brad Hayden, president and CEO of Robotic Skies, in an Oct. 22 panel at NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA2014).
As covered in a previous education session, commercial use of UAS is currently prohibited in U.S. airspace. As they always have been, model airplanes flown by hobbyists are allowed, but the industry is waiting for FAA regulations to permit UAS used for business.
That business could be anything, from filmmaking to crop dusting, public safety to rural medical services, but panelists said commercial uses for UAS often fall into “the three Ds” – jobs that human beings would find dull, dangerous or dirty. As their cost comes down, UAS will also be able to do some jobs more cheaply.
“The commercial opportunities are not here today,” said Paul McDuffee, vice president of government relations and strategy for Insitu, a maker of UAS, “but they are beginning to emerge.”
With the FAA close to issuing a proposed rule for commercial use of small UAS, McDuffee estimated the UAS market would open up in about three-to-five years.
When it does, there will be many opportunities for flight departments and business aviation professionals.
“One of the outstanding questions with UAS is having a trained pilot to operate them,” said aviation attorney Paul Lange, “with sufficient knowledge so you don’t stumble upon Class B or Class D airspace. So, when companies want to develop and test UAS, it’s actually very easy for them to go and get trained pilots from the flight department.”
There are many technological hurdles to overcome for UAS to be fully integrated into U.S. airspace, but the business aviation industry is not short on solutions.
“The dialogues I’ve had with folks here on the exhibit floor the past couple days have really given me a lot of ideas,” said McDuffee. “As we construct a business model to grow the commercial UAS segment, I’ve learned about a lot of opportunities here at NBAA2014 that we frankly hadn’t thought about.”
Some of those opportunities include outsourcing aircraft and avionics certification, UAS operator training, and maintenance for unmanned aircraft.
Just as UAS will create new opportunities in the business aviation industry, it will also make it safer.
“A lot of the technologies we’re developing for UAS are going to make the whole industry safer,” said Rose, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech. “We’re looking at ground-based solutions for low-altitude UAS flight, sense-and-avoid, smaller radar systems, ADS-B and other technologies that are going to make manned flight safer.”
Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager for security and facilitation and a member of an RTCA working group focused on UAS pilot certification requirements under FAR Part 61, has participated in government-industry initiatives on UAS integration into the national aviation system (NAS).
“Safety is always the top priority for NBAA and its Members, so we are very closely monitoring all of the FAA’s work regarding UAS integration into the NAS,” said Wolf, who was at the session.
“NBAA has a long-standing position on this issue – namely that UAS should not share the same airspace with manned aircraft unless they meet the same certification and airworthiness standards as manned aircraft, including the ability to take timely directions from air traffic control, and to sense and avoid other aircraft, and UAS,” she added. “Additionally, we will continue to oppose any steps taken in introducing the aircraft that would reduce or restrict current access levels for business aviation to airspace or airports.”
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