UAS are currently experiencing unprecedented investment from industry and fueling growth in research and development of UAS technologies and capabilities. The advancements are driving demand for UAS operations that are not currently supported by NAS regulations, policies, and procedures. The FAA recognized the need to investigate the NAS automation impacts from the integration of UAS into the NAS and tasked Cavan Solutions to assess these impacts and develop mitigation strategies to support the inclusion of UAS into nominal operations throughout the NAS.
Cavan Solutions was tasked to support the FAA’s Office of NextGen and assembled an experienced, cross-disciplinary team of ATM, systems engineering, and NAS subject matter experts who developed a set of concepts and guidance documentation describing the shortfalls from integrating UAS into the NAS and potential resolutions or mitigations strategies. The shortfalls were derived from a User Needs Analysis, the analysis of prior work, and the execution of a Breadth First analysis to identify and prioritize identified gaps in NAS automation for the introduction of UAS into the NAS.
A key tenant of the analysis is the assessments performed on the automation gaps. The deep dives into the automation gaps described the detailed impacts of the gaps from UAS integration and the technical or operational implications. The deep dive analyses also provided a set of recommendations for gap mitigation to achieve integrated operations with reduced impact to the NAS.
In support of findings from the deep dives of the automation gaps, a set of concepts describing essential aspects of UAS integration into the NAS were developed ranging from the way UAS IFR and VFR operations would be conducted and addressed by ATC, the procedures for addressing a loss in the command-and-control link between the remote pilot and the UAS, and the manner in which two-way voice communications between ATC and the remote pilots would be supported. Elaborating on these key concepts clarify and validate the findings from the automation gap analysis deep dives and allowed the exploration of additional shortfalls identified from those analyses and the shortfalls from prior work with no automation impact.
Implementation of the recommended mitigation strategies and next steps analyses will support the rapidly advancing UAS industry to integrate with the current NAS and manned operations without requiring a major overhaul of the airspaces, policies, and technologies involved. The analysis provides evidence for the efficacy of requiring new entrant UAS to meet required capabilities which allow unmanned operations to participate in the NAS in a similar manner to manned operations today. The results of the analysis also support a tripwire solution by which implementation of some NAS automation changes may be delayed until the alterations are timelier, may be more focused on established use cases, and the UAS industry has matured.