UAV Operations in National Air Space Advance as Privacy Fight Heats Up

Significant progress has been made in integrating two classes of small, unmanned aircraft into the national air space (NAS), an area of considerable interest for GNSS companies whose products provide navigation and guidance for many of the unmanned systems.

Standards have been drafted for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) weighing up to 55 pounds, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) have formally agreed to work together to help police departments and other government agencies quickly to make mini-drones — UAVs weighing less that 25 pounds — part of their operations.

Not yet clear, however, is what these developments will do for the overall market for unmanned systems. Government officials may decide to dial back purchases of unmanned aircraft if the privacy concerns sweeping the country trigger new limits on their use. Worries over privacy are already credited with slowing FAA’s integration efforts by months.

Although the standards are nearly complete, they need to be integrated into the FAA’s draft of its small UAV rule, which has yet to be finished. Once those are published for public comments, both will likely need to be updated at least once, probably twice, to incorporate the feedback.

The fact that the standards are nearly ready, however, is a bright spot for an industry deeply frustrated by delays on nearly every other front. The draft standards cover UAV design, including command and control systems and batteries. There are also standards for production, quality assurance, maintenance, and continued airworthiness as well as the aircraft flight manual and requirements for operations when flying over populated areas.

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