The Federal Aviation Administration wants you to fly the robot-friendly skies, but the regulatory overseer has more than a few challenges to overcome before it can extend that invitation in earnest. The FAA today announced it has added a research project aimed at figuring out exactly how the U.S. can safely fold unmanned aircraft into its national infrastructure and eventually the airspace it governs.
The research is but a small part of the FAA NextGen flight management system, an evolving set of goals directed at bringing America's aging -- and in some cases archaic -- flight infrastructure into the 21st century. As such, the FAA has to determine not only how to mix UAVs into existing commercial aviation, but also ensure that their flight systems and engineering are up to code with new air traffic control, navigation, and other infrastructure that will be rolled out in the coming decade and beyond.
Insitu, an independent Boeing subsidiary, has partnered up with the FAA, offering two of its ScanEagle drones as test aircraft for the review, which will be conducted in the restricted airspace above the New Jersey National Guard's Warren Grove Range. The point of the research will be to drive home to FAA regulators the particular nuances of unmanned aircraft design, maintenance, and behavior, which differ quite a bit from conventional piloted aircraft.
For the regulators, this is all going to be very important, naturally. More than 1,500 UAVs are in production around the world, and it will be up to the FAA to decide what's going to, literally, fly. Unmanned aircraft are already cleared to fly in the U.S. on a case-by-case basis, but for commercial UAV flight to take off the FAA will have to establish a set of across-the-board rules governing unpiloted flight.
That's not necessarily going to be easy. For one, no technology has been found that can replace the spatial awareness of an on-board pilot, and finding such a technology will be a challenge. Many unmanned craft, particularly the smaller variety, fly at low altitudes where they would share airspace with other small aircraft like gliders. These aircraft emit no electronic signals, so there's no easy way for UAVs to know their positions.
And that's just one example. When you talk about bringing UAVs to operate out of existing commercial airports where they are operating in the same lanes as manned flights, there's a whole new element of danger and difficulty involved. But Americans invented modern flight and then figured out how to get to the moon, so no doubt we'll overcome these technological challenges. The good news is the FAA -- an agency that has been criticized in the past for being, how should we say, sluggish -- has started the ball rolling.
i hope they are remote control or have some manual override to prevent crashes.
good, what took so long, passenger planes are just glorified buses. between gps and altitude readings, there is not much the pilots do nowadays anyways. human error is what causes crashes in todays world, not the computers, you only have to look at polands recent crash to see that. fog and lack of gps caused the crash, last time i checked computers dont have eyes, so fog wont make a difference.
Interesting. The FAA is to be commended for thinking ahead. Theoretically, it is possible to automate the entire air traffic control system, including the piloting of the aircrafts themselves. The reason that it is not done has to do with software reliability. Proving complex software correct is impossible with our current models. 100% bug-free software is what is needed for safety-critical systems like air and ground transportation. The problem is so serious that I predict that the FAA's NextGen air traffic control system will fail.
A solution to the software reliability crisis would not only solve all of the FAA's automation problem but it would make it possible to automate every transportation system in the world, which would save over 40,000 yearly traffic fatalities in the US alone. There is a solution but the FAA is not listening.
Google "Why the FAA's NextGen Air Traffic Control System Will Fail" if you're interested.
while i agree that software isnt 100% reliable, neither are the pilots or the planes themselves, so its just a matter of software vs human error
And if it gets hacked?
With UAVs flying all over the world controlled by the military there must be a cadre of qualified UAV pilots coming available to the commercial users of UAVs.
The FAA is smart to start thinking about how to integrate them into the National Airspace System now as I am sure sooner or later someone will decide to replace piloted commercial aircraft with UAVs.
Passenger airlines remotely piloted? That's is a bad idea. For military operations where a single life would be in danger it makes sense to remove the pilot from danger. If you put a pilot out of harms way it means he is worth more than his cargo. If a passenger plane goes down with 300+ people on board, the UAV pilot would live because he/she is sitting in an arm chair 2000 miles away. First off no one should have to live with that. Second what if there was something else the pilot could have done had they been located with their equipment? Finally what about the people who get lax because they are not there(UAV pilots)? A bone jarring landing can be a good wakeup call for a pilot to take their game up a notch. You cannot replicate that sort of adrenaline rush when you are not even there. People need to remember that flight is a life threatening art that is derived from science. While I love new technology the possible costs and pitfalls far outweigh the gains at this point. What I would advocate is UAV Pilots with remote access to monitor and assist pilots in order to improve the system. This would have the same encryption requirements as a UAV system while maintaining the life or death nature of piloting (and inspiration that it can sometimes impart). No full remote pilot for me thanks!
BTW are any of the above commentators Pilots, UAV or otherwise? I am not, but I hold pilots if far higher esteem than bus drivers and I would love to hear some educated opinions...
As a private pilot for 23 years with 700 hundred hours of flight time (which isn't much) and many safety lectures and seminars under my belt, I know very little. What I can share is this. The majority of all aircraft accidents is due to human error. The truth is if the human element is removed the odds of survival increase. Todays commercial pilots have become systems managers. Even when a pilot chooses to hand fly a aircraft all of his input is first scrutinized by banks of onboard computers,and only when the computers agree that the pilot isn't about to fly outside a set of predetermined parameters is the signal pasted on to the flight surfaces. Auto take-off, auto land, reduced seperation are all possible and have been in use for years. Computers make all this possible. Over the years a cockpit that once held four aviators now hold two. I believe it won't be much longer (10-15 years) there will be one person up front. One day we will board a plane without pilots and that will be a sad day, but its progress
A computer already flies the plane from the time it gets into the air until the time it lands. Automated take-off and landing also already exist.
The real difference is, when human interaction is needed, is it done by a pilot controling a computer on the plane or a pilot controling that same computer from ATC.
Most of a modern pilot's imput is used taxi around the airport at very slow speed.
I can only imagine that unmanned flight would be cheaper and safer (not to mention, hijack proof).
Getting rid of the cabin, the pilots, the seats, the displays, the extra controls and wiring to the front, the front windows, etc will add to cheaper fueled flights and cheaper planes.
I think the problem with this is in the human psyche. If it is "human error" we blame the individual, chaulk it up to human fallibility, and move on. When it is equipment failure, we obbsess over what could or should have been done. It becomes the equipment's fault and we do not forgive it for its humanity.
We are just more comfortable with our own fallibility, which is considerable, while judging others more strictly than ourselves.
Great comments all around. In Gladwell's book Outliers, there's a chapter about the human factor in flying a plane.
Quick list of thoughts:
1) perfect for freight (FedEx/UPS/DHL).
2) perfect for ships as well as planes, surprised no one has come up wit that one yet.
3) Would the efficiency of the design of the plane increase without the cabin? I'm assuming yes right?
4) Wonder what the unions think about this. Technically you still need flight attendants but what about the pilots union.
Although this sounds like a great idea and I'm sure it will have many positive effects, this could also be one of the worst ideas. Not only are you getting rid of so many jobs of talented pilots, but with how easy it has been for people to hack into places like the Pentagon, I can see this going horribly if someone decides to nosedive all the airplanes at once.
Also, with the US Army Strategic Management System trying to have a computer program decide Army movements and tactics (sounds like Ender's Game) and this new idea for unmanned flight, it makes me wonder if anyone learned anything from the movie "Terminator"?
Actually, most commercial aircraft are already capable of taking off, flying to their destination, and landing themselves. The pilots pretty much just monitor during flight and usually take over on landing and take off just for fun. The pilots, like the attendants, are mostly there for the passengers' sake. If we switch to UAVs, it wouldn't make much of a differance. Todays planes are just as much at risk of hacking and the UAVs are sure to have a remote override. The majoraty of the flight, like the ones we used today, will be automated.
Alright well lets start off with a little scenario Commercial Aircraft is on take off role and gets off the ground and right in there path is geese. Now would a UAV aircraft be able handle the situation and make the turn back to airport decision or would it just fail or make a choice to take the aircraft down straight ahead possibly into homes. Now theres going to be people out there that think well the computers smarter then a person it would calculate the risk of the two decision well then again theres the outside factor that got it into this situation. The miracle on the hudson is a perfect example of this. Now yes airplanes are capable of doing everything but the aircraft has to be told everything through human interaction and whoever said up above that pilots only hand land and take off for fun you either aren't in aviation or u missed that lesson no aircraft is to be auto landed or take off this is in the Federal Air Manual. And then there is the big issue with this Hackers no system is hack proof the military just had students from texas university try to hack there uav and they did it and they did it very fast and it was very easy. Its just a bad idea GREAT for military use but when handling lives i would rather have myself in the cockpit over a computer i can look at all the factors the computer can only go with what its told from an outside source thousands of miles away. 30 Years 11,000 hours