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Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (UAS)

Jimmy Smith is the National UAS Representative 

Background: Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UAS) safe integration into the NAS is an ongoing process that continually evolves with rapidly changing technological advancements. UAS integration will require new laws, policies, practices, procedures, and standards.  All these changes are taking place concurrently with the advances in the capabilities of UAS proponents. UAS integration is a long-term project that will grow as the system adjusts to the new entrants introduced daily. 

The FAA is developing an update to UAS Facility Map (UASFM) sizes in collaboration with NATCA.  The current grid size is 60 seconds lat/long (1 sq mile). The new map size will be 30 seconds of lat/long and partition the current grids into quad grids, allowing more flexibility in approving operations. On August 9, 2021, the Agency will restrict changes to grid altitudes until September 26, 2021, unless there is an urgent need to change them. On August 15, 2021, quad grids will be activated for all facilities in the NAS that currently have UAS Facility Maps (UASFMs). For airports in Class B/C/D, ATMs will work with their counterpart to review grid altitudes and make adjustments as necessary. After September 26, 2021, updated grid altitudes received from facilities will become active. Some facilities may need more time to adjust grids due to staffing and size of airspace, and the Agency understands this. 

The FAA is developing a UASFM Altitude Analysis Algorithm to generate grid altitudes based on traffic data. However, the tool is still in the conceptual phase, and there is no timeline for testing or implementation. 

The FAA is testing a new user interface for Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LAANC). The new interface will be easier to navigate and provide facilities better awareness of operations occurring in their grid altitudes. 

The ATO UAS Services Plan with six workgroups to move UAS integration forward in the NAS is ongoing, and NATCA is involved in all groups.   

ATO UAS Services Plan six priorities: 

  1. Drive UAS Integration  
  1. UAS Operations at or near airports  
  1. Beyond Visual Line of Sight Operations (BVLOS) 
  1. Establish Geospatial Management Capabilities 
  1. Standardize UAS Operations with Security Stakeholders  
  1. Improve and Automate Airspace Requests 

Section 383, Counter UAS (C-UAS) testing at Atlantic City is in its planning phase. The FAA will test multiple detection devices using different technologies.  All tests will be conducted under Part 107 and contained in UASFM grid altitudes.  The FAA also selected four additional airports to conduct testing:  

  • Atlantic City International Airport in Atlantic City, New Jersey 
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York 
  • Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio 
  • Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, Alabama 
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington 

The FAA has been conducting briefings with each airport selected. These briefings are collaborative and introduce facility personnel to the testing plan and timelines.   

The Agency, in collaboration with NATCA, conducted webinars on the new Reporting Suspicious UAS requirements in Notice JO 7210.931 effective on May 21, 2021. The Notice requires facilities to create a checklist for reporting suspicious UAS activity. The Agency and NATCA are also developing an eLMS course for field facilities covering suspicious UAS reporting.   

The FAA and NATCA are developing a standardized process of approving UAS operations on/near airports. This process will help ensure that UAS operations are safe and do not adversely impact manned operations or controllers’ workload. 

Upcoming/On-going Activities: 

  • Weekly Meeting with UAS Leadership Team (ULT) Co-Chairs 
  • North Dakota Statewide UAS Network 
  • City of Reno UAS Program  
  • UASFM AAA Concept Working Group 
  • LAANC AJM/AJT/NATCA Coordination Bi-Weekly Meetings 
  • BVLOS Engagement Team 
  • FAA/NASA Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) Airspace Working Group 
  • Section 383 C-UAS Airport Pilot Program Working Group 
  • Bi-Weekly FAA/NASA UAM Working Group 
  • Recreational Flyers Updates  
  • IFATCA RPAS Workgroup 
  • Drone Advisory Committee Quarterly Meeting 
  • ATO UTM Workgroup 
  • ATO UAM Workgroup 
  • AUS UAM Workgroup 
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