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Suggested Citation:"2 UAS Terminology and Classifications." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 2: Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure— Planning Guidebook. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25606.
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Page 13
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"2 UAS Terminology and Classifications." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 2: Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure— Planning Guidebook. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25606.
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Page 14

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Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure—Planning Guidebook   12 2 UAS Terminology and Classifications This section provides fundamental UAS terminology to facilitate use of this Guidebook. One important distinction is the difference between the terms “UAS” and “unmanned aircraft”. The term ‘UAS’ collectively refers to an unmanned aircraft, the associated control system, and the system for communicating between the two (NASEM, 2018). The unmanned aircraft, “…an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft” (FAA, 2018) is a component of a UAS. Thus, in this Guidebook, unmanned aircraft (UA) is used when discussing the actual aircraft and UAS is used when referring to the entire unmanned aircraft system. Also, UAS, in this Guidebook, refers to UAS operated by a remote pilot as opposed to a fully autonomous UAS. Few definitive definitions of UAS types or classifications exist. Some are defined by law but even those definitions can change over time. Additionally, different countries may use different terminology. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2018 includes definitions of the following types of UAS: • Small Unmanned Aircraft – “The term ‘small unmanned aircraft’ means an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, including the weight of anything attached to or carried by the aircraft.” (FAA, 2018) • Actively Tethered Unmanned Aircraft System – “The term ‘actively tethered unmanned aircraft system’ means an unmanned aircraft system in which the unmanned aircraft component— ‘‘(A) weighs 4.4 pounds or less, including payload but not including the tether; ‘‘(B) is physically attached to a ground station with a taut, appropriately load-rated tether that provides continuous power to the unmanned aircraft and is unlikely to be separated from the unmanned aircraft; and ‘‘(C) is controlled and retrieved by such ground station through physical manipulation of the tether.” (FAA, 2018) The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 also defined a model aircraft as “…an unmanned aircraft that is- (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” (FAA, 2012) However, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2018 repealed this definition. (FAA, 2018). Regardless, the term model aircraft, also referred to as hobby or toy UAS, is still used in the industry. Also, in this Guidebook, the term ‘non-model UAS’ refers to those UAs that are not flown for hobby or recreational purposes. ICAO uses the term “remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)” which means “An aircraft where the flying pilot is not on board the aircraft.” (ICAO, 2011) According to ICAO, RPA is a subcategory of UAS. The other subcategory being an autonomous aircraft; “An unmanned aircraft that does not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight.” (ICAO, 2011)

Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure—Planning Guidebook   13 UAS are also classified by size, speed or mission but these classifications are not uniform across the industry. For industry forecasting purposes, UASs are classified by mission or use such as military, commercial or civil. These classifications also vary within the industry. Some UAS forecasts consider commercial activity a subset of civil activity, while others classify civil as only government activity. In some cases, civil includes research, training and educational UAS activity.  

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It is anticipated that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will increase in activity within the airport environment and will expand due to market demand, operational requirements, and changes in UAS specifications (such as size, weight, and payload). To date, the majority of small UAS, defined as less than 55 pounds, operate outside of the airport environment. However, some public airports are currently supporting limited UAS operations (like testing, agriculture, survey, photography, and racing).

As a result, this pre-publication draft of ACRP (Airport Cooperative Research Program) Research Report 212: Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 2: Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure— Planning Guidebook provides suggested planning, operational, and infrastructure guidance to safely integrate existing and anticipated UAS operations into an airport environment.

This guidebook is particularly applicable to smaller airports (non-hub and general aviation) without capacity issues. The planning approach could help these airports prepare for and attract UAS operations for additional revenue in the near term. Larger airports (large, medium, and small hubs) are likely less inclined to be interested in attracting UAS operations in the near term, but they will have to accommodate UAS as they are integrated into the commercial cargo and passenger aircraft fleet in the future.

Other Resources:

Volume 1: Managing and Engaging Stakeholders on UAS in the Vicinity of Airports provides guidance for airport operators and managers to interact with UAS operations in the vicinity of airports.

Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators provides airports with resources to appropriately integrate UAS missions as part of their standard operations.

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