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UAV industry pushing for more unmanned drone flights like this one at dawn

DAC Stalemate Leaves UAV Industry in Limbo

The UAV industry was dealt a setback earlier this month when the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee failed to reach consensus on key issues, Commercial UAV News reports. According to the Wall Street Journal, members of the committee were sharply divided on issues such as radio tracking, beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) operation and flights over populated areas.

The DAC consists of numerous stakeholders, including representatives of the UAV industry, law enforcement officials, and hobbyists.  FAA Administrator Michael Huerta established the committee in 2016 with the goal of finding solutions that balance the UAV industry’s desire to expand the use of manned and unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace with public safety concerns. Reportedly, the majority of committee members did not sign on to the final report.

The DAC submitted its report shortly after the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it is investigating a collision between a civilian-operated drone and an Army UH-60 helicopter near New York City on Sept. 21, 2017. The helicopter was able to land safely, but its main rotor blade, window frame, and transmission deck sustained damage in the incident. The NTSB, FAA, Army and the drone manufacturer, DJI, are cooperating in the investigation.

Mandatory Tracking Concerns

Although the FAA has issued no statement about the nature of the disagreements within the DAC, it’s likely that mandatory Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast is one of them. This surveillance technology allows an aircraft to determine its position via satellite navigation and broadcast it periodically. The signal can be tracked by air traffic control as well as other aircraft, aiding situational awareness and self-separation.

ADS-B will be mandatory on all aircraft by 2020. And, according to UAV Commercial News, established manufacturers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin are pushing hard to force the committee to require any drone that flies in controlled airspace to have the technology installed.

What’s more, federal and local law enforcement officials say that ADS-B is critical to the successful integration of BVLOS and long flights over populated areas. But installing it in every drone will add significantly to UAV manufacturing and end-user costs.

It’s not surprising, then, that the two sides are far apart.

Solutions Needed

The disappointing inability of the DAC to reach consensus notwithstanding, the UAV industry is continuing to flourish, and industry experts believe that commercial BVOLS flights in controlled airspace will be a reality soon. Heavy-hitters such as Amazon, UPS and Google are pressuring regulators relentlessly as they ramp up operations for drone deliveries. So it seems likely that the FAA will reconvene the DAC before too long.

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