Research Projects

The present U.S. air traffic control system is not well equipped to handle UAS traffic, underscoring the importance of Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), which will allow UAS to be operated safely and efficiently inside domestic airspace. FAA aircraft certification rules must also keep up with the demand for UAS design, production and operation in the United States. Listed below are the different project categories for research conducted by Assure members and partners.

Research Focus Areas

Air Traffic Integration - The overall level of safety in the National Aerospace System is preserved through NAS integration, which requires adherence to rigorous airworthiness standards and airspace regulations. While they apply equally to manned aircraft, they also recognize the distinguishing characteristics of UAS.

This research encompasses those UAS that operate like fixed wing manned aircraft that require use of ramps, taxiways and runways to complete ground operations.

The FAA has recently implemented new rules at a number of airports for keeping airplanes far enough apart so they are not affected by each other's wake turbulence. This wake turbulence re-categorization (RECAT) more narrowly and accurately defines safe wake turbulence separation standards based on the performance characteristics of aircraft. This eliminates conservatively long separation standards that are necessary under current broader wake-turbulence classifications, which are based primarily on aircraft weight classes.

Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) is a joint government/industry initiative aimed at improving air traffic flow management through increased information exchange among aviation community stakeholders. These stakeholders work together to create technological and procedural solutions to the Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) challenges faced by the NAS. New entrants into the NAS such as UAS are not being considered.

Airworthiness - Advances in technology have greatly increased the affordability and accessibility of UAS to potential commercial operators and the general public. Accordingly, when the FAA develops and issues regulations that enable the commercial and private operation of sUAS in the NAS below 400 feet, we can expect a significant increase in the number of aircraft operating in this space. In addition to the significant number of new aircraft operating in this space, these sUAS will be operating in airspace that puts them in closer proximity to people than conventional aircraft now operate (currently it is rare for aircraft to operate in this arena).

Control and Communication - Control and Communication (C²) research is the development of an appropriate C² link between the unmanned aircraft and the control station to support the required performance of the unmanned aircraft in the NAS and to ensure that the pilot always maintains a threshold level of control of the aircraft.

Advanced research is required in data link management, spectrum analysis, and frequency management. Efforts will focus on completing development of C² link assurance and mitigation technologies and methods for incorporating them into the development of standards for the certification of the UAS.

Detect and Avoid (DAA) - This research area focuses on issues related to the detection of potential threats to remain well clear and avoid collisions. It explores sensors, the data produced from sensors, the management and use of that data, and the operational outcome that is considered safe and acceptable.

Human Factors - When the pilot controls the aircraft from a remote control station, several human factors issues emerge with respect to the pilot, the air traffic controller, and their interactions to safely operate UAS in the NAS. Human factors issues in manned aviation are well known, but further analyses regarding integration of UAS into the NAS is required.

Low Altitude Operations Safety - The substantial increase in air traffic below 400 feet that is expected with the integration of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) in the NAS also significantly raises the exposure of the general population to the potential effects of a sUAS mishap.

Training - The FAA's role in training is to establish policy, guidance, and standards. Airmen training standards are under development and need to be synchronized with the regulatory guidance. This research centers on UAS pilot training and pilot certification and the differences and similarities between manned and unmanned pilot training and certification.