In late 2013, Amazon.com announced that it plans to someday use unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to deliver packages. Amazon is not alone in considering these systems—the list of potential uses for this technology is rapidly expanding. Where is this technology headed, and what does it mean for the region, and for transportation?
State and national experts discussed these issues at an April 30 forum hosted by the Airport Technical Assistance Program (AirTAP), a part of CTS.
Often referred to as drones, modern UASs can be used for a broad range of activities, from aerial photography, surveying, precision agriculture, and communications to disaster response, wildlife research, and infrastructure protection.
A hurdle to broader use is the lack of rules and regulations. Last November the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its first annual roadmap outlining policies, regulations, technologies, and procedures needed to safely integrate UASs into U.S. airspace; it plans to issue regulations by 2015.
“The greatest challenge is integrating UASs into the National Airspace System,” said Brigadier General Alan Palmer, director of the Center for UAS Research, Education, and Training at the University of North Dakota. “We want to do this safely, we want to do no harm, and we want to be sure not to violate somebody’s personal space. We do not have any regulations for standards, training, certification, or anything like them. But we will get there.”
Other concerns include privacy issues and the existing aviation/navigation infrastructure, which did not account for a future including UASs when it was built 50 years ago.