Army drones will have to curtail training and operational flights by fiscal 2012 in the United States unless the FAA approves some form of UAS deconfliction, a top Army UAS official says.
"We will start to lose currency on systems because pilots won't be able to train," Tim Owings, deputy project manager for unmanned aerial systems, told me at the annual Association of teh US Army conference. The Army will have to start mothballing drones or placing strict limits on the amount of flight time pilots get, he said.
"We have to have some some access to the national airspace," Owings said.
The issue is not unique to the Army, since the Air Force is also struggling to find the sweet spot with the FAA and get it to permit UAS flights in civil airspace. There are 11 task forces working around the country to find solutions to the vexing issue of flying UAS in the same areas where civilian planes fly.
Along with policy answers to the problem of letting UAVs fly in civil airspace there may be technical solutions. Among the most promising approaches is sense-and-avoid technology. Essentially, UAVs would use a combination of radar, algorithms and software to ensure that if they detect they are on a collision course they would take evasive action.
But this technology will probably take more time to get approved than a variance of the tried and true ground-based radar, with which the FAA is intimately familiar, Owings said. So the Army, while pursuing sense-and-avoid technology, will focus in the near term on ground radar.
The UAS office has created a new program, airspace integration concepts, to lead this effort.