National Airspace System (NAS)

Final Project Presentation

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Final Project Presentation

From as early as the 1990s, all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operate on tight limits within the National Airspace System (NAS). UAS has mainly been involved in public operations (that is, military and security) until quite recent. However, there is a growing list of other uses to which UAS can be put. These include communications, broadcast, aerial photography, monitoring environmental conditions, surveying land and crops, and protecting specific infrastructures. Through UAS, civil and public operators could find new ways of enhancing the nation’s aviation operations. This can be done through decreased costs and operational efficiency while NAS safety is kept intact.

The mission of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is to provide the world’s safest and most efficient aviation system. The United States is ahead of other countries primarily due to her infrastructure, commitment to excellence and safety, diversity of user groups, and the background of leadership and innovation. Currently, the FAA is working to come up with new systems and breed a culture that boosts efficiency, safety, reliability, environmental performance, and capacity within the aviation system (Luxhoj & Oztekin, 2009).

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office was set up to facilitate safe and efficient integration of UAS to the NAS. To achieve this goal, FAA works together with several other stakeholders such as commercial vendors, manufacturers, technical standard organizations, industry trade associations, research and development centers, academic institutions, and governmental agencies. Eventually, the integration of the two systems must take place without driving down current capacity, affecting current operators negatively, hampering safety, and multiplying risks to users or persons on the ground more than other new forms of technology similarly integrated. Although significant steps have been taken towards integrating UAS and NAS, challenges and opportunities lie ahead (Dalamagkidis et al., 2008).

One of the major functions of FAA is to develop policy, regulations, guidance material, procedures, and training requirements that support efficient and safe UAS operations within NAS, while working together with relevant agencies and departments to solve such concerns as national security and privacy. UAS currently access airspace upon receiving Certificates of Authorization (COA) to those operating publicly while civil applicants require special airworthiness certificates. This state of regulations will transition to intense integration processes when revised operating rules and procedures are enforced in a manner that UAS can comply with. There is a proven certification process under the auspices of FAA, which include the establishment of special conditions whenever new and technologies are involved. The process will be useful in the evaluation of items to which UAS is not familiar. For NAS segments that have demanding requirements of communication, surveillance performance, and navigation, it will be necessary for UAS to demonstrate its capacity to meet such requirements.

Collision Avoidance Sensor Technology

Despite evidence that collision avoidance technology is a factor extensively outside the visual sight level, much research has gone into collision avoidance sensors using passive and active technology in equal measure. The industry has put more focus on electro-optical, acoustic and microwave sensors. These sensor types each have strengths and weaknesses. No sensor is capable of replacing the eyes of the pilot completely (Watts et al., 2012). For instance, active light-imaging and ranging (LIDAR) use lasers. These makes them have a greater range compared to radars, but are capable of blinding approaching pilots.

SARA, Inc. has developed other passive acoustic sensors. The sensors have certain over human pilots. For instance, they are capable of detecting non-cooperative aircraft approaching from all directions. In addition, they have greater light range and are less costly. According to the test results of UASs fitted with these sensors, there was early detection that gave enough time to maneuver in cases of head-on collisions and loud background noise. The weakness of these sensors is that they can only detect noisy aircrafts (Watts et al., 2012). This means that balloons and gliders cannot be detected.

If appropriate sensors are matched, it is possible to create an excellent system of collision detection. For instance, PANCAS could be combined with system of electrooptical (camera) to surmount challenges of detecting noiseless aircrafts. Sensors have strengths and weaknesses. The strength of one sensor could be used to replace the weakness of another sensor. Evidence has proven that it could be advantageous to combine sensors on the basis of relative strengths.

Industry Collision Avoidance Demonstrations

Despite the tests that have gone into industry sensors, there have been rare actual flight demonstrations. The long delay and bureaucracy in obtaining FAA approval and scarcity of funds have made it difficult for businesses to demonstrate avoidance technology. In 2003, NASA demonstrated a number of civil avoidance capabilities using a Proteus aircraft. They depended on satellite and radar to relay information. However, the very expensive equipment were used in these tests. Some of the radar units were too heavy to be used in small UASs to detect incoming aircrafts (Huaj and Narayanan, 2011).

Using its PANCAS system, SARA, Inc. successfully conducted a ground simulation test and obtained positive results. Upon being subjected to acoustic signatures from a different aircraft, the PANCAS system could detect and avoid the source of these signatures in a consistent manner by making a simple turn to the right. A number of companies such as the L-3 Communications and AAI Corporation have obtained special experimental airworthiness certificates, which permit them to conduct development tests. Future experiments are likely to provide FAA with additional data for improving collision avoidance technology. The data, however, will be gathered slowly due to the relatively few number of companies using UASs commercially that have been granted certificates from FAA (Huaj & Narayanan, 2011).

Defense Research

Despite the applicability of much defense research to commercial UASs, priority has been given to UAS performance by the military. On the other hand, businesses wishing to become part of NAS are focusing more on safety. On the contrary, there has been increased reliability of UAS due to their increased performance. Statistics have documented decrease in UAS mishaps with increase in hours of flight. Humans cause most of the errors in UAS mishaps (Watts et al., 2012).

There is a strong case for integrating UAS to NAS. Although military UAS primarily focus on performance, they have nonetheless attained the safety level characteristic of manned military aircraft. Moreover, most UAS are designed in a way enabling them to perform in dangerous conditions. This contributes to the high rates of mishaps. Considering that the commercial UAS industry is putting more focus on safety, expectations are high that the industry could reach the manned aircraft safety fast enough if guided by standard-based regulation. Moreover, most commercial UASs will operate on platforms tested and proven previously by military use.

Extensive investment in UAS technology development is being undertaken by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) due to the increasing demand for UAS emission scenarios. Presently, the DoD is financing efforts in autonomy, communication systems, and pilot training. Moreover, the DoD has put up certain standards and adopted the ASTM International’s F-2411standard of sense and avoid to help in efficient procurement of UASs worldwide and meet the goals and specifications of performance (Watts et al., 2012). The data and technology research carried out by DoD has influenced the commercial UAS industry hugely.

Anticipated Industry Challenges

A number of economic and industry challenges are hampering UAS use commercially. Possibly, the biggest barrier is the absence of appropriate definition for the restricted class of UASs, which offers fast, but limited access to operations. The process of getting certification to conduct experiments is a lengthy one and designed to standalone exceptions (Rango & Laliberte, 2010). Absence NAS usage particularly in low risk situations, the industry has managed to gather data to minimize the high costs of insurance, demonstrate systems reliability, and display UAS advantages. The associated high costs of insurance further eat into research funds and data collection. For instance, 24% of NASA tests operation costs goes to insurance.


Detect and avoid engineering solutions are necessary for UAS successful operation. Fatal accidents could arise leading to loss of lives and damage to property if these solutions are not implemented effectively. This paper has explored the need to integrate UAS into NAS because the two systems are interdependent. Before such integration can be done, UAS technology should be efficient enough to reduce mishaps to the lowest level possible or eliminate the same altogether. This paper has proposed the swapping of weaknesses with strengths of sensors, for instance, to produce an all-round effective sensing technique.


Dalamagkidis, K., Valavanis, K. P. and Piegl, L. A. (2008). On unmanned aircraft systems

issues, challenges and operational restrictions preventing integration into the National Airspace System. Progress in Airspace Sciences, 44(7-8), 503-519.

Dalamagkidis, K., Valavanis, K. P. and Piegl, L. A. (2008). Current Status and Future

Perspectives for Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in the US. Journal of Intelligent and Robotic Systems, 52(2), 313-329

Huang, M. and Narayanan, R. M (2011). Non-cooperative collision avoidance concept for

Unmanned Aircraft System using satellite-based radar and radio communication. Digital Avionics Systems Conference.Luxhoj, J. T. and Oztekin, A. (2009). A Regulatory-Based Approach to Safety Analysis of

Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Engineering Psychology and Cognitive Ergonomics, (539), 564-573.

Rango, A. and Laliberte, A. S. (2010). Impact of flight regulations on effective use of unmanned

aircraft systems for natural resources applications. Journal of Applied Remote Sensing, 4(1), 043359

Watts, A. C., Ambrosia, V. G. and Hinkley, E. A. (2012). Unmanned Aircraft Systems in

Remote Sensing and Scientific Research: Classification and Considerations of Use. Remote Sensing, 4(6), 1671-1692

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