FAA Rolling Out New Flight Standards Organization

The FAA took the next step in rolling out the newly reorganized Flight Standards Service with the release of an Information to Operators (InFO) outlining changes ahead that are designed to foster “efficiency and agility.” According to the InFO, “The Future of Flights Standards (FFS) Initiative is a service-wide effort to transform the culture of Flight Standards into an organization that facilitates critical thinking, interdependence and consistency to better serve aviation safety.”

To be implemented this month, the changes include the elimination of regional Flight Standards offices and the creation of four functional organizations: Air Carrier Safety Assurance, General Aviation Safety Assurance, Safety Standards and Foundational Business. This will create a streamlined structure to facilitate “faster response times, single points of accountability in each functional organization, greater agility and consistency,” the agency said.

Existing FAA-issued documents, media and products issued remain valid, the FAA said, but it encouraged aviation stakeholders to learn more about the new organization at its Flight Standards Information Management System page.

Plans call for Flight Standards to fill new manager vacancies in upcoming weeks with the hopes of having them staffed by or shortly after the August 20 transition date, and FAA leadership are holding meetings with the new functional organizations, Flight Standards director John Duncan said.

Read Expanded Version

by AINalerts 8/7/2017

2017-08-07T13:59:41-06:00 August 7th, 2017|ATC, Blog, FAA, FAA Authorization|

Centennial Airport Primary Runway Closure Scheduled for Aug. 22 to Sept. 30

Centennial Airport (APA), in Denver, CO, will close the primary Runway 17L/35R beginning Aug. 22 due to a runway rehabilitation project. The closure will remain in effect through Sept. 30.

The rehabilitation project will include:

  • Complete resurfacing of the entire length of 17L/35R by mill and overlay.
  • Replacement of existing runway lighting system with energy-efficient LED units.
  • Installation of new elevated runway guard (wig-wag) lights at all TWY B connectors on 17L/35R.

Operational Impacts

While Runway 17L/35R is closed, Runway 17R/35L will be the primary arrival runway. Runway 10 will be the primary departure runway. There are several anticipated impacts related to this event, including:

  • Depending on aircraft type and/or density altitude, the use of Runway 17R/35L will be necessary for departing aircraft, which may result in departure delays up to 30 minutes. These delays are contingent upon associated traffic volume.
  • There are no high speed exits available on Runway 17R/35L. This will require increased miles-in-trail on final to allow aircraft to exit the runway after landing as well as to depart any waiting aircraft.
  • There are no precision approaches to either Runway 17R or Runway 35L, requiring the use of a circling/sidestep approach (with increased minimums) during LVMC or IMC conditions.
  • Due to the construction project, there will be limited taxi routes between the ramp areas and Runway 17R/35L, which could lead to time periods of increased ground congestion.
  • Runway 28 may be available for arrivals on a case by case basis after considering the wind speed/direction and the arrival/departure demand.
  • Practice approaches (VFR or IFR) will be extremely limited or unavailable. Requests for practice approaches will be handled on a case by case basis and are dependent on traffic demand.

ATC Traffic Management Initiatives and Delays

Arrival and departure delays are likely during peak times during the closure. Due to longer runway occupancy times, the airport arrival rates will be reduced. ATC will use mile-in-trail restrictions, fix balancing, time based flow management and possibly ground stops off the internal and first tier airports.

Planned Surface Impacts

The project will be completed in two phases.

During phase one, all connectors, with the exception of A8 and A14, will be closed. A8 and A14 will remain open to facilitate traffic crossing TWY A to Runway 17R/35L.

During phase two, all connectors, with the exception of A4 and A18, will be closed. A4 and A18 will remain open to facilitate traffic crossing TWY A to Runway 17R/35L.

During the construction project, Centennial Airport asks tenants, pilots and other airport users to:

  • Check NOTAMs often
  • Listen closely to ATCT instructions
  • Expect unusual taxi instructions
  • Watch for people and equipment
  • Pay attention to flaggers at the connectors
  • Be patient and stay alert

Safety or security concerns may be reported to APA operations at (303) 877-7307.

View the Runway 17L-35R Overall Site Plan. (PDF)

by NBAA   Aug. 8, 2016

2017-06-13T02:14:29-06:00 August 8th, 2016|ATC, Aviation News, Aviation Safety, Blog, FAA, General Aviation|

Airline Pilots Union: Drones Could be Link in Accident Chain

Aviation accidents often result from a chain of missteps, and the presence of unauthorized small drones in controlled airspace is one potential link that cannot be discounted, said the president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). With incidents of rogue drone encounters on the rise, the pilots’ union is backing legislation that would give the Federal Aviation Administration more power to regulate the recreational use of unmanned aircraft.

No accident is the result of a single event,” said Tim Canoll, a Delta Air Lines MD-88 captain and former U.S. Navy pilot who took over as ALPA president in January. “We think of it as a chain of events—each link of the chain being an element that, if removed, would have prevented the accident. We always look at each element—whether it be weather, air traffic control, fatigue, aircraft design, unmanned aerial systems—as potentially adding to an accident. We’re constantly looking for ways to mitigate the threat posed by that link in the chain, and that’s the way we’re looking at unmanned aerial systems. They are a link in a chain that could lead to an accident.”

Canoll offered his thoughts on recent records releases by the FAA that brought to light hundreds of reported drone sightings by airline and general aviation pilots over the past two years. Last November, in response to media requests, the FAA released a summary of incident reports that for the first time indicated a surge in drone sightings, including fly-bys at major airports. The agency provided AIN with a spreadsheet listing 194 “non-COAUAS” events, or flights involving unmanned aircraft systems that did not have certificates of authorization from theFAA, between February and November 2014.

The FAA released further records on two occasions in August, both times apparently prompted by front-page articles in The Washington Post warning of a growing threat to aviation from rogue drones. On August 12, the agency announced that pilot reports of seeing unmanned aircraft had nearly tripled, from 238 in all of 2014, to 650 in the first seven months of the year. On August 21, it released summaries of 765 sightings between Nov. 13, 2014, and August 20. Among the more recent incidents, the pilots of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 on final approach to Orlando International Airport spotted a drone at between 1,000 and 1,500 feet above the ground; the pilots of a JetBlue Embraer E190 on approach to New York’s John F. Kennedy International at 700 feet; and the pilots of an American Airlines MD80 on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth International at 500 feet.

The recreational use of model aircraft-and now drones-has been subject to voluntary guidance since 1981. A provision of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 states that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” that is flown “strictly for hobby or recreational use.” But the provision requires that such aircraft be “operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.” Operators must first inform airport or ATC authorities when planning to fly within five miles of an airport.

ALPA supports legislation U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced on June 18, called the Consumer Drone Safety Act, that would provide more front-end regulation of small drones. The proposed law would set a maximum altitude that consumer drones could fly to, and establish areas where flights are restricted because of the possibility of “unsafe interactions with manned aircraft,” or the risk of damage to persons or property on the ground. It would require the manufacturers of consumer drones, “whether through software or other technological means,” to cap their altitude and prevent them from flying near airports or within protected airspace. Through “sensors and software or other similar means,” drones would come equipped with a collision-avoidance capability and the means to safely and autonomously land in the event of a lost communications link with the operator. They would have registration numbers that pilots and controllers could identify, and transponders to signal their position in space.

We’re pleased that that bill takes steps toward regulating that element

[of recreational drones],” Canoll said. “We’re not about restraining people from doing things, but we are about maintaining the safest air transportation system in the world.”

Under another provision of the 2012 legislation known as Section 333, the FAA has granted more than 1,200 exemptions to operators to fly small unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes. Whereas early Section 333 operators needed at least a private pilot’s license to fly their machines, the FAA now allows operations by people holding a recreational or a sport pilot certificate. In comments early in the permit-granting process, ALPA had called for operators to have commercial pilot’s licenses.

We’re not directly opposed to the exemptions the FAA has been putting in place,” Canoll said. “But we do believe that if the vehicle is intended to, or has the capability to operate in our national airspace—airspace shared with the aircraft that my members fly with passengers on their airplane, they must be operated by pilots who are familiar [with airspace rules]. These are very capable machines, and while the intent might not be specifically to operate it in the national airspace, they do have the ability to blunder into the airspace or lose link and end up in our airspace. I need an operator that is aware of the hazards related to that possibility.”

By Bill Carey, as reported on

Wright State Spin-Off to Market GoFlyZone

Wright State Research Institute is spinning off a new company around a technology that hopes to create an air traffic control system for drones.

The institute, part of Wright State University, is developing a new system designed to be a traffic management tool for drone users of all kinds — allowing them to plot courses for their craft that stop them from flying in restricted areas, avoid bad weather and risky collisions with other aircraft.

The new startup, FlyTransparent LLC, will have Bruce Preiss, WSRI’s lead research engineer, as its CEO. It will bring to market the GoFlyZone, a Web site and mobile application for drone users to voluntarily upload flight plans and allow them to see other users’ flights before they get off the ground.

“There are just too many users out there right now to send their information to an air traffic control,” Preiss said. “Self regulation is a step in the right direction.”

Preiss developed the Web site along with researchers David Malek and Matt Duquette. This, he said, as there are an estimated 500,000 unmanned aerial systems, or drones, up and flying, with another 12,000 landing in the hands of consumers each month.

Commercial users are often aware of the laws around the emerging industry — but cheaper drone models are landing in the hands of hobbyists with increasing regularity, leading to high profile incidents of drones buzzing too close to aircraft and helicopters, or as was recently the case in Cincinnati, crashing into buildings.

“We view this as the only good near-term approach,” Preiss said, adding that even current proposals to attach some form of transponder to each UAV would take considerable time and cost.

Users of the app will be able to plot a course for their drone and it will be fed through a central flight planning data server, which will allow them to see where other drones are operating and where restricted areas are. It will also show them potential weather hazards and other manned aircraft to avoid.

Hugh Bolton, senior cyber and intelligence fellow for WSRI, said the tech could come with some form of subscription or licensing fees. It’s still to be determined how it could be a benefit to the legal and insurance liabilities for unmanned systems.

The company isn’t ready to take it to market. Preiss said it will work to build a business model to commercialize the tech and then seek angel investors and venture capital to support the startup. He wasn’t sure when a commercial version could come to market, but it will be demonstrated at the Ohio UAS Conference next week.

as reported on


2015-08-31T10:00:45-06:00 August 31st, 2015|ATC, aviation innovation, Aviation Leaders, Aviation News, Aviation Safety, Blog, Design, drones, UAS, UAV|

Inspector General Audit Report Raps ATC Tower Efficiency

The tower at Washington Dulles International Airport was among those ranked ‘frequently least efficient.’ (Photo: Bill Carey)

Inefficient operation of some ATC towers the Federal Aviation Administration manages cost the U.S. government $853 million in additional controller hours and equipment over a five-year period, according to the Department of Transportation inspector general. The FAA agreed with its parent organization that tower efficiency can be improved, but said the IG’s methodology in assessing efficiency is flawed.

In an audit report it released to the public on August 24, the IG found that inefficient towers on average required $142 million in additional costs each year relative to efficient towers from fiscal years 2008 through 2013—or $853 million in total. The office found a wide disparity it the towers it assessed as either efficient or non-efficient. “While we found a large share of towers to be relatively efficient in each year that we examined, the gap between their performance and that of the least efficient towers was substantial,” the report states.

The report landed at a sensitive time for the FAA. In pending legislation to reauthorize the agency’s spending programs, the U.S. Congress is considering a fundamental restructuring that would separate its ATC and regulatory functions. One possible model would see the Air Traffic Organization spun off as a not-for-profit entity, comparable to some air navigation service providers.

The IG determined tower efficiency by assigning weighted values to “inputs,” including labor hours and equipment, and “outputs,” including the number of air traffic operations handled. It then calculated the ratio of the weighted sum of outputs to the weighted sum of inputs. The analysis was separated into two parts; it compared busier airport hub towers to each other and non-hub towers to non-hub towers. Nevertheless, the “environmental difficulty” a tower faces, taking into account factors such as the percentage of local traffic, runway configuration and the number of runways “is not the primary determinant of whether a tower is relatively efficient or inefficient,” the office found.

Large hub airport towers the IG ranked as “consistently relatively efficient” are: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark Liberty, Houston George Bush Intercontinental, Las Vegas McCarran, La Guardia, Chicago O’Hare and San Diego airports. Those identified as “frequently least efficient” are: Boston Logan, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Washington Dulles International, Orlando, Chicago Midway, Seattle-Tacoma and Salt Lake City airports.

The difference between relatively efficient and inefficient hub airport towers “is not necessarily a consequence of the inefficient towers using less productive combinations of labor hours and equipment to do their work,” the IG stated. “Instead, the difference results at least in part from the fact that the inefficient towers are actually using more of each input to handle their operations and prepare trainees.”

In a response to the findings attached to the audit report, the FAA agreed that tower efficiency can be improved. But the IG’s comparative analysis and ranking methodology for tower efficiency “is flawed for several reasons,” the agency said. Among them, the office did not consider that the FAA closes some ATC towers at night for more cost-effective handling of traffic; did not consider the relative use of contractor resources by towers; and used the “book value” of equipment as an input, making towers with newer equipment look relatively more expensive. “The agency’s position is that any meaningful facility-to-facility comparison should reflect the variables noted above, as well as other relevant facility-specific variables,” the FAA said.

Asked for its reaction to the IG report, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association cited the agency’s rebuttal, adding that it would leave any response to the FAA.

By Bill Carey, as reported on

2017-06-13T02:14:56-06:00 August 26th, 2015|ATC, Aviation News, Aviation Safety, FAA, Privatization|

Amazon, Google Want Changes To Low-Altitude Airspace For UAS

Amazon and Google are proposing changes to low-altitude airspace to enable widespread use of small unmanned aircraft, including for package delivery. Central to both proposals is allowing private-sector entities, rather than the FAA, to manage airspace operations.

Amazon proposes segregating airspace below 500 ft. to buffer small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations from current manned aviation activity and to buffer lesser-equipped air vehicles from highly equipped vehicles operating beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) and able to avoid collisions.

Google proposes using available technology including cellular networks, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and automotive vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to enable UAS to operate as manned aviation does today in Class G uncontrolled airspace.

Developing an air traffic system that enables safe operations of highly automated UAS flying beyond line-of-sight is essential to realizing the “enormous benefits” of the technology, says Amazon, which is developing the Prime Air unmanned delivery system.

The online retail giant proposes segregating airspace below 500 ft. into four zones. Airspace below 200 ft., or the low-speed localized traffic area, would be reserved for operations such as surveying, videography and inspection that do not involve transiting the airspace.

Lesser-equipped vehicles, lacking sense-and-avoid (SAA) systems, would be confined to this area and would not be allowed access to certain airspace within the zone, such as over heavily populated areas.

Between 200-400 ft., the high-speed transit area, would be designated for well-equipped UAS “as determined by the relevant performance standards and rules,” says the Amazon proposal.

Airspace between 400-500 ft. would serve as a permanent no-fly zone where small UAS would be forbidden to fly, except in emergencies, to provide a buffer between unmanned and manned aviation operations.

Finally, predefined low-risk locations with altitude restrictions and equipage requirements would be established by aviation authorities; designated hobbyist airfields fall under this heading.

“We will carefully evaluate Amazon’s suggestions, but a detailed technical review of the proposal will take time,” says the FAA.  “We are working with industry to identify mechanisms for considering proposals such as Amazon’s and Google’s, which may be tied to RTCA’s work on developing industry standards

[for UAS].”

Google’s proposal for Class G airspace below 500 ft. is to have airspace service providers (ASP) perform UAS traffic planning, airspace supervision and separation assurance using existing cellular networks. The UAS would give way to manned aircraft by listening to existing ADS-B channels and maneuvering to avoid a collision.

An “ADS-B-like” system, such as cellular device-to-device or automotive V2V links, would provide short-range UAS-to-UAS collision avoidance. Google is developing a low-cost, low-power ADS-B transceiver for use in unmanned aircraft.

The search giant’s proposal requires the FAA to amend its mandate for ADS-B Out equipage by 2020 to include helicopters flying below 500 ft. over populated areas, which could meet opposition from operators, but Google says its low-cost ADS-B system will be suitable for manned aircraft.

“We appreciate both Amazon’s and Google’s good-faith efforts to begin a dialog with other users of the airspace—especially the helicopter industry, which is the aviation sector most likely to operate in the low-altitude airspace they envision using—and their recognition that these are starting points,” says the Helicopter Association International. “We see nothing in their initial proposal that would restrict access to low-altitude airspace.”

Under Google’s proposal, ASPs would be the interface between UAS operators and FAA air traffic control (ATC). They would provide data to operators on airspace restrictions, weather, obstacles and other unmanned and manned traffic. The data would be used to plan coordinated, conflict-free routes.

Google would be the ASP for its Project Wing UAS delivery fleet and be part of a federated network with other ASPs, such as Amazon for its Prime Air operations and providers serving other low-altitude airspace users such as hobbyists.

“To ensure openness of the airspace and spur competition, anyone should be able to create an ASP,” says Google’s proposal. “However, all ASPs must be networked to share the traffic and flight plan data with each other and with ATC.”

The projected UAS industry growth “requires the delegation of responsibility for many traditional air navigation services,” says Amazon. “There should be a controlling entity that serves a central, offline coordination and auditing function; however many of these services will be handled in a more distributed and federated fashion where multiple operators cover overlapping areas, each managing their own fleet.”

Amazon also proposes a “best-equipped, best-served” model where airspace access is determined by vehicle capabilities, and outlines four classes of equipage: basic, good, better and best.

“Basic” is radio-control flight within line-of-sight (LOS) in low-risk areas. “Good” would allow unrestricted daytime LOS flight below 200 ft. in rural areas and limited suburban operations. This requires the UAS to be able to announce its identify, location and activity via V2V, receive air traffic and weather information, provide proximity alerting via V2V, and connect to the Internet via the ground station.

“Better” adds an autopilot capable of automatic deconfliction via collaborative V2V, on-vehicle Internet connection and ADS-B Out, and would allow LOS flight below 400 ft. in suburban areas and limited urban operations.

“Best-equipped” adds sensor-based noncollaborative SAA, online 4-D trajectory planning and execution, geospatial data on all hazards above 200 ft., ADS-B In/Out, onboard vehicle condition monitoring and the ability to land at an alternate site. This would enable BLOS flight below 400 ft. in all areas, and allow one operator to control more than one vehicle, says Amazon.

“Operators seeking broad airspace access in multiple environments will need to have highly-equipped vehicles,” the proposal says. “They will also need to minimize interaction with lesser-equipped [small UAS] as well as the occasional manned aircraft flying at low altitude.”

“The proposal from Amazon to equip ‘Best’-class UAS with sense-and-avoid equipment is intriguing, but we are concerned that the plan does not account for low-level manned aviation operations, such as agricultural, firefighting, emergency medical and wildlife survey operations,” says Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

“If Amazon intends for the airspace below 500 ft. to only be available to manned aircraft in transitional airspace circumstances that ‘will not fly’ with manned aerial applicators and the many other pilots that consistently, and not just transitionally, fly in low-level airspace,” he says.

Google proposes an airspace security system based on how pilots and operators today establish a traceable identity. This would use the public key infrastructure to verify the identity of an operator submitting a flight plan request. This would “enable compliance and responsibility through identity,” Google says.

By Graham Warwick, as reported on

Aviation funding bill up in the air

Photo: Getty Images

The unfinished debate over highway funding in Congress is likely to ground hopes for passing a new funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA bill, which includes funding for air traffic controllers, is scheduled to expire Sept. 30. But Congress is expected to return its focus on highways upon returning to Washington next month, because lawmakers punted debate on a long-term surface transportation-funding bill into October before leaving for their August recess.

 Air travel advocates are worried that the twin cliffs will mean aviation will get the short end of the stick when lawmakers return to Washington.

“It seems things are trending in that direction,” Erik Hansen, U.S. Travel Association senior director of domestic policy, told The Hill on Tuesday, when asked if the prolonged highway funding debate means the FAA is heading for a short-term extension.

“The surface bill seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the room and that could mean more delays for aviation,” Hansen continued. “There’s a packed floor schedule

[in the fall], and getting a bill through committees and both chambers and through a conference could be difficult.”

The FAA deadline has flown under the radar for most of the year as lawmakers have focused on the highway funding measure, which initially had a May 31 deadline. The new cutoff point, established by a patch passed by Congress last week, is Oct. 29. Lawmakers have pledged to dive back into the highway funding debate in September.

Already, there are rumors that a House markup scheduled to consider the FAA bill in September will be replaced with a hearing on a multiyear highway bill.

Complicating matters further is a push from House Republicans to privatize some functions of air traffic control. The effort has riled unions.

Hansen said Tuesday that the privatization push will be difficult lift for GOP leaders during a monthlong sprint that will ensue after Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 8.

“We already heard comments from [House Transportation Committee] Ranking Member [Peter] DeFazio [D-Ore.] that there is going to have to be some type of extension,” he said. “The question is, how long?”

The FAA has been at the center of budget battles in Washington before. The agency’s last funding measure, in 2012, was passed following a string of more than 20 temporary extensions that resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency in 2011.

The FAA’s funding was also cut in the 2013 sequester, resulting in air traffic controller furloughs and flight delays, before Congress passed a quick fix to restore the spending.

Aviation industry groups in Washington are focused now on avoiding those kinds of standoffs, even if they have to accept at least one more temporary extension while Congress finishes off the highway bill.

“Both the House and Senate understand how critical aviation is to the economy and jobs, and we are committed to working collaboratively with Congress to deliver an FAA bill that our industry needs and our customers deserve,” the group that lobbies for airlines, Airlines for America, said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.

The American Association of Airport Executives said it is important for Congress to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of repeated aviation funding extensions, however.

“With the memory of 23 short-term extensions during the last reauthorization cycle still fresh in mind, it’s clear that Congress needs to move swiftly to provide long-term certainty and avoid another series of temporary patches that result in disruptions to the programs of the FAA, missed construction seasons in parts of the country, and lost jobs,” the group said in a statement.

U.S. Travel’s Hansen said the aviation industry has an advantage because it does not have the kind of funding crunch that has marked the highway debate, as lawmakers have tried fervently to avoid raising gas taxes.

“The difficulty on the surface side is that you have to come up with pay-fors each time,” he said. “You don’t have that on the aviation side.”

But Hansen said the privatization effort is a sticky-enough issue that it could result in the same type of gridlock that has marked the highway funding debate.

“There’s a packed agenda, a packed floor and building consensus takes time, especially on major issues like air traffic control reform,” he said.

By Keith Laing, as reported on

2017-06-13T02:14:58-06:00 August 7th, 2015|ATC, Aviation News, Economics of Aviation, FAA, Government Regulation, Privatization|

Google Wants a Piece of Air-Traffic Control for Drones

July 27, 2015

Google Inc., the company that brought order to the Internet, has set its sights on doing the same for the flocks of commercial drones expected to someday clog the skies.

The search-engine pioneer is joining some of the biggest companies in technology, communications and aviation — including Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Harris Corp. — in trying to create an air-traffic control system to prevent mid-air collisions.

But don’t expect a big federally operated network of control towers. The government hasn’t said who will run the system or how it will operate, and is asking for ideas.

 “We think the airspace side of this picture is really not a place where any one entity or any one organization can think of taking charge,” Dave Vos, who heads Google’s secretive Project Wing, told Bloomberg News in his most expansive comments on Google’s vision to date. “The idea being that it’s not ‘Google is going to go out and build a solution and everyone else has to subscribe to it.’ The idea really is anyone should be free to build a solution.”

At least 14 companies, including Google, Amazon, Verizon and Harris, have signed agreements with NASA to help devise the first air-traffic system to coordinate small, low-altitude drones, which the agency calls the Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management. More than 100 other companies and universities have also expressed interest in the project, which will be needed before commercial drones can fly long distances to deliver goods, inspect power lines and survey crops.

NASA Conference

Many will attend a NASA-sponsored conference next week on how it should work. The goal is to eventually create a fully automated robotic ballet in the sky, with computers instructing drones to move around obstructions and each other.

Whether the system will be privately or publicly run — or even if it will be a single system — hasn’t been decided.

To the winners will go a foothold in an emerging multibillion-dollar economy of unmanned flying machines. That’s helped attract venture capital firms like Accel Partners, Intel Corp.’s investment arm and Millennium Technology Value Partners.

Precision Hawk program director Tyler Collins. Photographer: Jason Arthurs/Bloomberg
Precision Hawk program director Tyler Collins. Photographer: Jason Arthurs/Bloomberg
Photographer: Jason Arthurs/Bloomberg

“They definitely see it as an economic opportunity and as something that they want to participate in,” Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said. “This is real magic.”

Vos said he foresees a day when thousands of drones, all within a few hundred feet of the ground, will routinely ply the skies above cities — reducing pollution by taking traffic off the streets. That could easily dwarf traditional aircraft flights, which max out at 10,000 to 12,000 at a time over the U.S.

Computer Networks

Google called competitors and government agencies to its own conference in June to share its vision of air-traffic control. The foundation of any system must be the ability to trust that all participants will reliably identify themselves and their locations, Vos said. The airspace must be open to any drones willing to follow the rules.

Networks of computers on the ground and in the air will set routes that avoid mid-air collisions. Humans will still be in charge, but unlike the current air-traffic system, controllers must rely on computers to make the split-second decisions necessary to keep drone traffic flowing and safe, he said.

Vos envisions a decentralized system with multiple private operators, most likely overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Amazon has been tight-lipped about what it wants in a drone air-traffic system. Gur Kimchi, vice president of the company’s drone delivery division, Amazon Prime Air, issued a statement saying everyone in the industry “must work together.” Kimchi, who will deliver a key-note speech on July 28 at NASA’s conference, said he would discuss more details then.

Recent Demonstration

PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, North Carolina, drone company with about 100 employees, began developing its own drone traffic control system because the large agriculture and oil companies it flies for wanted something to keep tabs on unmanned flights. “Our clients need it,” Tyler Collins, the program’s director, said.

In a recent demonstration over a North Carolina cattle farm, Collins and his team intentionally steered a quad-copter drone toward an imagined crop duster at work on an adjacent farm, the kind of hazardous scenario PrecisionHawk employees have seen in the real world.

A no-fly zone alert appears on an operator's smartwatch
A no-fly zone alert appears on an operator’s smartwatch
Photographer: Jason Arthurs/Bloomberg

Within seconds an alert popped up on the operator’s smartwatch: “WARNING, nearing no-fly zone.” When the operator ignored the warning, an autopilot took over and flew the whirring machine back to safety.

PrecisionHawk’s system can automatically block its drones from flying into danger, such as around airports and other aircraft. And it makes a drone’s real-time flight track available so others can stay away.

Skydio, Airware

Skydio Inc., a Menlo Park, California, company founded a year ago, is developing arrays of tiny cameras mounted on drones and linked to computer chips that automatically guide them around trees, power lines and other obstructions, Chief Executive Officer Adam Bry said. San Francisco-based Airware and DroneDeploy are creating computer networks capable of showing where drones are operating.

After putting out word last year that NASA wanted help on its small-drone control system, 126 companies expressed interest, said NASA’s Parimal Kopardekar, the project manager.

“We think through collaboration we can collectively decide on the right requirements faster,” he said.

Kopardekar envisions a tiered system of tighter and tighter controls as drone traffic ramps up. If a drone pilot wants to fly over a remote farm, all he or she might need to do is file a notice to a centralized computer system. As unmanned flights become denser, the cloud-based system would need to track drones to ensure they wouldn’t collide, just as radar follows traditional aircraft now, he said.

Drone Detection

He’s also contemplating drone-detection systems to ensure that stealth unmanned aircraft (such as the one that landed on the White House lawn Jan. 26) can be tracked. Kopardekar envisions turning over the design to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Just how all this will happen isn’t yet known, let alone who will pay for it or operate it. That has left a lot of room for jockeying among the players, according to Gary Church, president of Aviation Management Associates Inc., who has consulted on drone-related projects for a decade.

Will drones be tracked by the same equipment the FAA has ordered traditional aircraft to install by 2020, known as ADS-B? If so, Harris, which built FAA’s ADS-B tracking system and is also working with NASA, stands to benefit.

Or will the nation’s cellular network be adapted for drone monitoring? That may be a boon for Verizon and other mobile phone companies.

Will fiercely independent recreational fliers, who are now exempt from most drone regulations, be required to adhere to new rules? How will the system handle rogue operators who don’t cooperate?

“It’s kind of a big problem statement, but we think it’s quite tractable,” Vos said of the challenge. As long as “we force ourselves to think collaboratively, we’re pretty convinced that the answers come out pretty clearly.”


July 24, 2015


2017-06-13T02:15:01-06:00 July 27th, 2015|ATC, aviation innovation, drones, FAA, UAS, UAV|

Symposium Reveals Support, Opposition to U.S. ATC Reform

Shown is the tower at Calgary International Airport. Nav Canada is considered a model for the U.S. ATC system. (Photo: Nav Canada)

Industry participants and interested parties gathered to discuss the future of the U.S. air traffic control system at a Transportation Research Board (TRB) event that revealed both support and ongoing opposition to the transformational change some members of Congress propose. That change, if it comes, will be advanced in the coming months in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.

We believe that we have a real and rare opportunity with the current leadership in Congress and the administration to make a change that is going to benefit the system for everyone,” said Airlines for America (A4A) senior vice president Sharon Pinkerton, one of the panelists at the TRB symposium July 7 in Washington, D.C.A4A believes the FAA’s current Air Traffic Organization should be separated from its regulatory function, Pinkerton added, describing a model resembling an air navigation service provider, or ANSP. “We believe that organization should be adequately funded with an equitable and fair funding mechanism and we believe that there should be a governance board that is made up of stakeholders and users,” she said.

Speaking on a different panel, Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy with the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy institute, questioned the airline industry’s commitment to organizational reform and the associated need to upgrade the nation’s ATC infrastructure—the goal of the FAA’s NextGen program. “Modernization will not come cheap,” he said. “I have often heard proponents of privatization argue that the airline industry would be willing to bear the cost of modernization if they knew it would be well run by the ANSP. This claim, perhaps above all, requires some skepticism.”

DeGood observed that airlines collected $10.2 billion in ancillary revenues in 2013. Charging ancillary revenues as part of the base ticket fare, he said, would generate more than $800 million in ticket taxes for the airport and airway trust fund that supports the FAA. “I submit this is an industry that is not in a hurry to pay for the current system, let alone modernization,” he declared. “This leaves the prospect that the ANSP would face stiff resistance to levying the taxes or user fees necessary to realize NextGen modernization.”

Representatives of UK NATS, Germany’s DFS and Nav Canada described those organizations as, respectively, a public-private partnership, a government-owned LLC and a non-share capital corporation. Michael Korens, a former U.S. Senate aviation subcommittee counsel who Nav Canada described as its “general rep” in Washington, and who has also registered as a lobbyist for its Aireon satellite surveillance joint venture with Iridium Communications, spoke highly of the Canadian ANSP.

Spun-off from regulatory agency Transport Canada in 1996, Nav Canada is considered a model for the organization the U.S. might create. “Nineteen years into the exercise, this is a seriously stress-tested agency,” Korens said. “Safety is significantly better today. As measured by losses of separation they are half today what they were under Transport Canada. Fees today are 30 percent lower than they were under Transport Canada on a current-dollar basis. They’ve renewed virtually all of the air traffic control infrastructure and modernized it. They’ve taken the ATM (air traffic management) development in-house and have gone from depending on outside system integrators…to having a world class suite of products that they sell around the world.”

In a June 15 speech to the Aero Club of Washington, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he envisions creating a “federally chartered, fully independent, not-for-profit corporation” to operate and upgrade the ATC system. “We will establish a stable, self-sustaining, and fair user fee funding structure for ATC, removed from the budget process and the annual appropriations cycle, and free from the funding uncertainty,” he declared. Earlier this month, the committee informed aviation groups that it will likely defer releasing FAA reauthorization legislation to the full House until September, several weeks later than expected.


By Bill Carey, as reported on


2017-06-13T02:15:03-06:00 July 9th, 2015|ATC, Blog, FAA, Government Regulation, Privatization|