Safety Considerations for Operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the National Airspace System
Author(s)Weibel, Roland E; Hansman, R. John
There is currently a broad effort underway in the United States and internationally by several organizations to craft regulations enabling the safe operation of UAVs in the NAS. Current federal regulations governing unmanned aircraft are limited in scope, and the lack of regulations is a barrier to achieving the full potential benefit of UAV operations. To inform future FAA regulations, an investigation of the safety considerations for UAV operation in the NAS was performed. Key issues relevant to operations in the NAS, including performance and operating architecture were examined, as well as current rules and regulations governing unmanned aircraft. In integrating UAV operations in the NAS, it will be important to consider the implications of different levels of vehicle control and autonomous capability and the source of traffic surveillance in the system. A system safety analysis was performed according to FAA system safety guidelines for two critical hazards in UAV operation: midair collision and ground impact. Event-based models were developed describing the likelihood of ground fatalities and midair collisions under several assumptions. From the models, a risk analysis was performed calculating the expected level of safety for each hazard without mitigation. The variation of expected level of safety was determined based on vehicle characteristics and population density for the ground impact hazard, and traffic density for midair collisions. The results of the safety analysis indicate that it may be possible to operate small UAVs with few operational and size restrictions over the majority of the United States. As UAV mass increases, mitigation measures must be utilized to further reduce both ground impact and midair collision risks to target levels from FAA guidance. It is in the public interest to achieve the full benefits of UAV operations, while still preserving safety through effective mitigation of risks with the least possible restrictions. Therefore, a framework was presented under which several potential mitigation measures were introduced and could be evaluated. It is likely that UAVs will be significant users of the future NAS, and this report provides an analytical basis for evaluating future regulatory decisions.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Aviation Safety, Air Transportation