FAA, in a notable step down the path towards safely integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the everyday movement of people and goods, is seeking input on the first publicly released set of airworthiness standards for a drone.
The effort is part of FAA's work with Florida-based FlightScan Corp., which wants to use UASs to inspect power transmission lines. The company has proposed using the Schiebel Camcopter S-100, an unmanned rotorcraft with an MTOW of 440 lb. and a typical payload capacity of about 75 lb.
FAA's proposed airworthiness standards for UASs, developed as part of the S-100 certification effort, establish "a scale of risk based on kinetic energy," with six risk classes "based on logical break points between data clusters that parallel the existing classes of aircraft defined" in FAA guidance and regulations.
Most of the standards in the 43-page document are taken from FAA's regulation on "normal category" rotorcraft (14 CFR Part 27) and aircraft engines (14 CFR Part 33). In what should come as no surprise, UASs will be treated as aircraft, right down to requirements for mechanics needing to hold "appropriate FAA maintenance certificates" and "complete required maintenance training."
While resembling aircraft both by sight and regulatory chapter and verse, UASs will stand apart in several ways. In the MRO arena, for instance, technicians are likely to need far broader knowledge of their products so they can provide service to an entire aircraft and its powerplant, not just one or two key systems. This is one of several differences anticipated by Alan Hobbs, a UAS human factors specialist who has been researching the topic for more than a decade.
FAA's UAS standards are far from final. The public has through Dec. 18 to comment on them, and the agency has already said that there is more to add, including see-and-avoid equipage regulations and noise standards that are under development.