FAA releases roadmap for UAS, finalizes test site privacy policy

The Federal Aviation Administration today released its first annual “roadmap” outlining efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the nation’s airspace.

The document is available for download here: Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) Roadmap

The FAA says its main goal for integration is to establish requirements that UAS operators must meet in order to increase access to airspace over the next five to 10 years. The roadmap offers guidance on the revised regulations, policies, procedures and more that will be needed to support such a change. It also stresses that the airspace system is not static and will continue to evolve over the next 15 years, noting that to “avoid obsolescence, UAS developers will need to maintain a dual focus: integration into today’s NAS while maintaining cognizance of how the NAS is evolving.”

In the near term, not much will change. The FAA will continue to allow UAS access to the nation’s airspace on a case-by-case basis. This will decline as integration expands but continue indefinitely as a means to allow UAS flights in certain circumstances.

In the big picture, however, things are moving forward. The Joint Planning and Development Office has also released a plan to accelerate the integration of civil UAS into the national airspace, available here. The plan details how to accomplish the shift alongside the FAA’s ongoing transition to its Next Generation Air Transportation System.

In addition, the FAA today sent a privacy policy to the Federal Register related to six proposed UAS test sites, which will conduct research into the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace. It requires test site operators to comply with all applicable individual privacy laws, to have a publicly available privacy plan and a written plan for data use and retention, and to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.

“The FAA is committed to the safe and efficient integration of UAS into the NAS,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says in the roadmap’s introduction. “However, as safety is our top priority, UAS integration must be accomplished without reducing existing capacity, decreasing safety, impacting current operators, or placing other airspace users or persons and property on the ground at increased risk. We have made great progress in accommodating public UAS operations, but challenges remain for the safe, long-term integration of both public and civil UAS in the NAS.”

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