Challenges for Autonomous Flight Operations
Stephen Lloyd, President and CEO, SJL and Associates Inc. Aerospace and Aviation Consultants, presented Challenges for Autonomous Flight during the Impacts of Advanced Vehicle Technology course at the NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting on October 9, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the last few years, tens of billions of dollars have been invested in automated systems for aircraft. This is a global technological revolution, with innovations being made around the world. Innovations move quickly on the industry side, but the regulatory side is slow to keep up.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has been using unmanned aircraft for a long time. The expansion of this technology on the civilian side has occurred mainly over the last ten years and is evolving rapidly. Most civilian innovations have occurred in small aircraft, but sizes are increasing. Innovations have also primarily been conducted in the visual line of sight. However, we are now seeing those same operators, with some enhancements, being able to fly beyond the visual line of sight.
Urban air mobility or autonomous operations is a current reality, with systems and commercial drones being tested today. For example, UPS was recently issued a part 135 certificate to operate an airline of sorts for cargo. And, there are hundreds of manufacturers in line to get approved and certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly autonomous aircraft.
Being on the civilian side is very different than being on the DOD side, and comes with additional challenges. This is especially evident in the lack of regulation and policy around this subject, which is constantly changing, as well as issues associated with public trust.
“From my perspective, the need for safety and security when we talk about autonomous operations couldn’t be greater,” said Mr. Lloyd. He described safety as the top priority followed by efficiency, and reiterated that safety cannot be compromised.
In terms of safety, the systems, air traffic control, integration, security, contingency modes, cyber, and more must work and continue to evolve together. Systems must include command and control, and detect and avoid. Mr. Lloyd also described the need to measure safety and risk through the use of data.
There is remarkable cooperation between industry, NASA, DOD, FAA, academia, and other others interested in moving UAS and urban air mobility forward. Together these stakeholders are trying to provide solutions on how to keep it safe, including detecting other aircraft in the system and providing for a system in urban environments.