Even though unmanned aerial systems are already hauling cargo, spraying crops, monitoring pipeline integrity and, of course, targeting terrorists, the use of UAS in domestic U.S. airspace has been very limited.
The recently released Federal Aviation Administration’s 2013 UAS road map — “Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap” — promises significant steps toward that goal. At the same time, however, the document makes it clear that the expanded use of unmanned aircraft in the United States will take place very gradually.
In fact, the only step to be taken in 2014 that will be visible to the public will be the opening of six UAS test sites around the country. The congressionally mandated sites will conduct limited UAS operations and research into how best to safely integrate UAS systems into the national airspace, including what navigation and certification requirements are needed.
Behind the scenes, however, the road map calls for government and industry to pursue a series of steps toward developing technologies, standards, rule and policies. “Ultimately,” notes the report, “the pace of integration will be determined by the ability of industry, the user community, and the FAA to overcome technical, regulatory, and operational challenges.”