Aircraft Accidents and UAS Data, Part VII

Well, it is official: we have become a civilization of uncommunicative idiots. Don’t believe it? The next time you’re in a restaurant … any restaurant, take a look around; people are not engaged in conversation; they are looking at their cell phones; surfing social media and texting. The ability to converse with our spouses, parents, children, etc. has escaped us. In a crowd, we are solitary figures, just like Paul Simon sang about in “I Am a Rock”. And the inability is leaking into our professional conversations, just when we need to keep the lines open.

The unmanned aerial system (UAS) conversations, to date, have always been monopolized by lobbyists and the inexperienced – often the same people. They make ridiculous assumptions, dodge facts, employ sarcastic reasoning and take shots at their ‘opponents’ as if the conversation were an adolescent game. When professional courtesy is not offered, it is not returned, on either side of the argument. However, problems long unaddressed, still exist.

Fortunately, a UAS and the national airspace system (NAS) conversation has been cultivated by serious-minded people. A fourth study Article has been written by Ryan Wallace, Kristy Kiernan, John Robbins, all of Embry-Riddle University; Tom Haritos of Kansas State University and Jon Loffi of Oklahoma State University, titled: Evaluating Small UAS Operations and National Airspace System Interference Using AeroScope. The Article was printed in the Journal of Aviation Technology and Engineering 8:2 (2019) 24-39. In the four studies the Authors keep moving the conversation forward, providing invaluable data to promote practical solutions.

The first sentence in the report states, “A recent rash of near mid-air collisions coupled with the widespread proliferation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) raise concerns that integration is posing additional risk to the NAS”; a brief, common sense problem statement. Until both sides of the argument can accept this fact and stop transferring blame to any culprit, from President Trump to Climate Change, we will never solve the real problems. The Authors looked at and compared many factors to aid their data-seeking.

“In this study, the authors partnered with a UAS technology company to deploy an AeroScope, a passive radiofrequency detection device, to detect UAS flight activity in an urban area.” The Authors employed the latest technologies in their study. However, even with the most advanced tracking system, the ‘Bad Apples’ are still successful at playing Hide-and-Seek, mostly because, as the study highlights, the technology is not commonplace in the field yet.

The report stated that while this technology was used in a limited area, “The authors assessed 93 potential violations of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 107 regulations, including controlled airspace breaches, exceeding maximum flight altitudes, and flight outside of daylight or civil twilight hours.” These are sobering findings. The regulation-busters are not disciplined professionals, e.g. aerial photographers, realtors, they are amateurs, people who represent the UAS industry’s ‘Bad Apples’. And while the UAS industry must deal with its own lawbreakers, the law makers need to get their joint houses straight before the circular firing squad sets up.

Three situations to consider: 1 – the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been given responsibility for the UAS industry. 2 – Prior to this writing a UAS entrepreneur applauded the Daytona Police Department for their professionalism in dealing with drones. 3 – Tim Bennett, Program Manager for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Division, recently spoke to NBC News, confirming what had been stated repeatedly: that drones are a threat to passenger jets near airports. The NBC reporter also spoke to entrepreneurs generating technology that finds drones being flown illegally. Other technologies are being designed to bring those drones down.

The FAA, a local police department and the DHS, each involved with unmanned aerial vehicle, aka drone traffic. This represents major attention at drones, but who has ultimate authority? The FAA has authority in the NAS; the local police in communities below the NAS, e.g. indoor arenas, city streets, while DHS has authority of terrorist prevention. Then there is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the military, the Secret Service, etc., all with their own jurisdictions. Kind of like when two outfielders call the fly ball, only to have it drop between them in the confusion. The truth is the UAS industry needs all the supervision it can get because the UAS is not like anything else we have seen; it mixes professionals with amateurs, each wanting to penetrate the NAS. Wait until flying cars and aerial taxi services enter the fray.

One may suggest that the more eyes, the better. However, jurisdiction is a funny thing, funny in the way that it can get laughable. Add to the confusion the introduction of cooperating government agencies; the concept is an oxymoron, e.g. jumbo shrimp or pretty ugly, which is how a jurisdiction issue could end up.

There was a promising point in the NBC report: entrepreneurs developing technology. The Authors partnered with a UAS technology company to … What? Find a solution to a problem that they both shared. Does anyone else see solutions? Recently I took part in a discussion where the theme was that the FAA failed the UAS community. I stated, “If the UAS industry is waiting for the FAA to create the UAS technologies, they will have a long wait. The FAA does not have the manpower, money, time, expertise, etc. to meet the task.

The UAS entrepreneurs, who know the technology and the capabilities, must step up, create the means to track and. if necessary, police their own.” The rest of the aviation industry does this; they have been doing this for decades, e.g. discovered solutions to Stage III noise reduction or improved engine reliability for twin-engine overwater flights. The aviation industry policed their own safety programs, e.g. air operators auditing those who are contracted to them. They built better mouse traps and have opened their world globally.

The UAS industry has the money, risk-takers and technologies to accomplish these things. They must weed out the bad apples and prove to the other NAS users they belong there. The studies are a first step to understanding the need and represent the blueprint for pursuits in multiple directions; they are footwork already trod. The UAS industry needs to decide to take the next steps and keep those communications going.

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