The FAA serves as the primary regulatory agency mainly in charge of overseeing safety within the National Airspace System (NAS). They construct rules and regulations that encompass a satisfactory level of safety that is required to operate any type of vehicle in the NAS whether it be manned or unmanned. The Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 empowered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the daunting task of integrating civil UAS into the National Airspace System for the first time in its history. This initiative undoubtedly adds pressure on the FAA to maintain/ and regulate even more air traffic than it currently has. Normally, in order to maintain and direct the flow of traffic within the NAS, the FAA establishes rules such as the sense and avoid procedures that have to be followed by any type of aircraft including Unmanned Aerial Vehicles(UAV). The purpose of the sense and avoid procedure is to allow aircraft to self-separate themselves from other aircraft, objects, terrain and avoid collisions with any of them (Marshall, Barnhart, & Hottman, 2011).
To comply with this FAA mandate, manned aircraft pilots are required to perform regular visual scans from one end of their windshield to the other in order to detect other aircraft, objects or terrain. And if and when traffic is spotted, the pilot is required make to decide or judge how this trajectory is position relative to his or her own aircraft motion and take appropriate action to avoid a collision (Aerospace Series, 2012). Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are expected to follow and comply with the same rules and regulations as their manned counterparts. And as such, this includes the means to sense and avoid collisions (FAA, 2002). Since there is no pilot on-board a UAV, the ability to see and avoid other manned aircraft, objects, and terrain is almost considered compromised. The absence of an onboard pilot relinquishes the operator of a UAS of vital situational awareness cues. Although large scale UAS comes equipped with sensors to aid them in the sense and avoid procedures, it’s been said that it does not equate to what a human is capable of yet (Weibel & Hansman, 2005). This issue poses serious safety concerns as it relates to safe operation within the National Airspace System. UAS operators only have the reliability of on-board sensors to alert them of possible dangers. The issue of safety concerns arises mainly with the inability of current sense and avoids sensors to deliver adequate safety margins that are acceptable to UAS integration implementation.
Aerospace Series: Sense and Avoid in UAS: Research and Applications (1). (2012). Hoboken, GB: Wiley. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION. (2002). Right-Of-Way Rules: Except Water Operations. Retrieved from http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgFAR.nsf/0/934f0a02e17e7de086256eeb005192fc!OpenDocument
Marshall, D. M., Barnhart, R. K., & Hottman, S. B. (Eds.). (2011). Introduction to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Baton Rouge, US: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.libproxy.db.erau.edu
Weibel, R. & Hansman, R. 2005. “Safety Considerations for Operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the National Airspace System.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed July 1, 2012, Retrieved from: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/34912