One of the most significant aviation safety issues to emerge in the past few years is the integration into civilian airspace of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and unmanned aerial vehicles. Like many individuals and organizations within aviation and outside of it, we have watched with interest as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its regulatory counterparts around the world have struggled with how best to ensure that UAS can operate safely alongside traditionally piloted aircraft while enabling commercial, government and private operators to effectively and efficiently leverage an exciting and potentially beneficial technology.
The Foundation’s role moving forward will not be a passive one. Last fall, the Foundation was asked to join the new Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST), which was launched by FAA as a government-industry effort to gather and analyze safety and UAS operations in the nation’s airspace. More recently, we were asked to serve on the UAST Executive Committee.
The UAST is modeled on the highly successful U.S. Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) and the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC). CAST and the GAJSC use a data-driven, consensus-based approach to analyze safety data and develop specific interventions to mitigate the root causes of accidents. UAST’s mission is to collect and analyze UAS operational data to identify safety risks, and then develop and voluntarily implement mitigation strategies to address those risks.
The UAST is not the Foundation’s first foray into the world of UAS. In July last year, the Foundation’s Basic Aviation Risk Standard (BARS) program office in Melbourne, Australia, published version one of its BAR Standard for RPAS. The standard provides companies with minimum requirements for performing risk-based management of the RPAS operations that support their activities.
As many have said over the past few years, the UAS genie is out of the bottle. The technology is too potentially valuable and beneficial to too many people to try to halt its development. Instead, the aviation and drone communities must work together to ensure safe and efficient operations and harmonized regulations.