Under pressure from deep-pocketed corporations seeking regulatory relief to operate uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is pushing to expand BVLOS operations.
If adopted, some of the most troubling recommendations from the UAS
BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee report may
become a reality. Of specific concern to ag aviators, the rule would
give UAS the right of way over crewed aircraft in so-called “shielded”
In what appears to be a tactical move, on May 24, the FAA published four precedence-setting BVLOS Exemption Petitions alongside a broader proposed rule for public comment. If adopted, some of the most troubling recommendations from the UAS BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) report released last year may become a reality. Of specific concern to ag aviators, the rule would give UAS the right of way over crewed aircraft in so-called “shielded” areas. In addition, the FAA steamrolled NAAA and nine other crewed aviation groups by denying a joint request in a letter seeking additional time to comment on these five paradigm-shifting proposals (the FAA only allowed 20 days for comment).
The proposed shielded areas, wherein UAS would now have the right of way over crewed aircraft, are defined as “a volume of airspace that includes 100’ above the vertical extent of an obstacle or critical infrastructure and is within 100 feet of the lateral extent of the same obstacle or critical infrastructure.” The ARC contends that these shielded operations should be permitted based on “the limited likelihood of crewed aircraft operations in [these] areas.” Agricultural aviators were clearly not considered in this assessment, as this would place UAS squarely into what are already the most statistically dangerous areas in and around an applications site, such as around electric infrastructure.
The FAA, it seems, plans to lean heavily on the required use of Detect & Avoid (DAA) systems to mitigate the risk of the proposed UAS BVLOS operations. Each of the four exemption petitions submitted planned to employ radically different DAA techniques, but none provided public evidence of their efficacy. The FAA is seeking to employ a combination of industry standards to approve or disapprove DAA systems in exemption petitions; however, it is unclear whether the agency will actually verify a petitioner’s claimed DAA performance. Moreover, NAAA is unaware of any DAA system that has been tested against the unique nature of aerial applications.
NAAA commented in opposition to all four exemption petitions as well as the proposed rule on BVLOS expansion and shielded operations. We will continue to beat the drum of the necessity to have UAS certified as airworthy and that UAS must always give the right of way to crewed aircraft. In addition, we will assert that DAA systems must be certified by the FAA and be performant against aerial application operations. As the momentum behind UAS integration into the national airspace pushes regulation forward, the safety of the humans working in that airspace cannot be set aside.
You can view the above-mentioned dockets (and NAAA comments) using the links below: