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Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators (2019)

Chapter: 4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports

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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25607.
×
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Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   19 4 Approach to Conducting UAS Operations at Airports Once an SMS plan that includes UAS is in place and the risks have been evaluated, airports can begin planning UAS operations. This section will lay out an approach that airport operators can take to integrating and conducting UAS operations at their airport. A general approach will be described which can be adopted by airports. Airport operators should be aware of any unique considerations of their airport or situation that may alter the steps provided in this section. 4.1 Pre-planning Coordination Before planning any UAS mission details, airports should coordinate with multiple parties and stakeholders that may be involved or affected by UAS activity at the airport. This is a crucial stage in conducting UAS operations. Successfully and effectively coordinating prior to the operation will help ensure safety is prioritized, all resources are available, critical parties are aware, and clear understanding is developed to help guide the remaining planning. 4.1.1 Stakeholder and Community Engagement There are many stakeholders that could potentially be impacted by UAS operations. Depending on airport size, operations, and proximity to any residential or commercial areas, the list of targeted parties for engagement will change. For example, a non-towered Class G airport without scheduled operations will not need to involve airlines and operations personnel in the same manners as a Class C or B airport. When considering who to engage, airports would need to consider any parties or personnel that will be impacted or aware of their UAS operations. Some examples of who to consider are:  State Department of Transportation  Fixed Base Operators  Air Traffic Personnel  Operations Personnel  System Approach for Safety Oversight Offices  Emergency Personnel  Local Law Enforcement  Airfield Maintenance or Technical Personnel  Airlines  On-site transportation personnel  Hangar/Parking Tenants Best Practice  Engaging with Local Communities: Engaging any local communities results in increase awareness of UAS operations, address community concerns. Coordinating with community officials is a necessary step.

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   20  On-field companies (Gliders, Schools, Cargo) Airports will need to consider their role and impact in the community and will need to identify the local stakeholders they want to engage for safety as well as public relations, such as demonstrating to the public the benefits of utilizing a new technology. Airports should consider communities based on their proximity, sensitivity, and participation. A concise communications plan to engage these parties is an effective and recommended step. The components of a communication plan are shown in Figure 3. Airports should consider multiple forms of media to communicate the operation. Figure 4 shows an example of a flyer that was distributed and posted around the airport a week prior to the operation at JNX. This flyer was used to help raise awareness of any operators or personnel at the airport. Also, for this operation, the team included an addendum to the Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) message that informed local traffic of the UAS activity at the airport. Additional information can also be found in ACRP 03-42 Topic A and B: Managing and Engaging Stakeholders on Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the Vicinity of Airports. 4.1.2 FAA Engagement Airport managers should also communicate with FAA personnel prior to any UAS operation. Contact the Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) so that they are aware of the planning of UAS activity and the scope of the operations. As well, contact a representative at the appropriate Regional and District Offices. Airport managers should Figure 4: Example of a flyer advertising UAS operations. Figure 3: Example template of a communication plan

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   21 begin these discussions by proposing intended UAS operations. These conversations should have a clear purpose, acknowledge safety and risk concerns and how to mitigate, and remain open and flexible to their concerns and suggestions. These discussions should occur regularly until the operation is conducted. Implementing this early in operational planning would ensure that FAA considerations and concerns are addressed in an immediate and real time manner. Doing so also helps mitigate risk, improves safety, and reduces the operation impact. Early engagement will also help target the appropriate Part 107 waivers, authorizations or other FAA approvals that may be required for operation. 4.1.3 Air Traffic Control Engagement For any towered airport, discussions must begin early. Like FAA engagement, airport managers should also engage with their tower regularly. Ensure tower operators are plugged-in and understand the plan for the operation at every step. It is essential to retain this communication to iterate on the operation and any planning. The workload of an air traffic controller changes based on the airport and it is the duty of the airport to understand and develop a mutually agreeable plan for executing the UAS operation given the understanding of the tower’s workload and their ability to handle requests. It is also advantageous to take this time to develop a plan for communication between the UAS operator and tower. The airport manager and UAS operator should be clear about how to handle Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) of the UAS to communicate with the tower. Also, identify when, how, and where to communicate. For example, will a discrete frequency or an already established frequency be used? How will the UAS operator communicate? Hand-held radio or vehicle-mounted radio? Crowding of ATC communications should also be considered when developing the communications plan. These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered. This is a discussion that should remain open and fluid allowing for plenty of iteration based on preference and anticipated workload by the tower. 4.1.4 Waiver and Authorization Process In the early phases of the coordination process, it is important to consider what Part 107 authorizations, waivers, or other FAA approvals may need to be pursued. This consideration should be informed by the FAA engagement, understanding of the UAS operation, and any additional consultation with airport legal parties. The FAA offers step-by-step guidance to help identify what waivers are necessary for an airport (Federal Aviation Administration, 2018). However, the onus is on the airport operating the UAS to fully understand the scope and impact of their operation to help them answer important questions Best Practice  Engaging FAA: Have a clear and open line to the FAA to maintain routine check-ins and updates regarding the UAS operation. There should be a consistent POC from the FAA FSDO or Regional Offices to act as a liaison. Best Practice  Working with the Tower: Communicate openly and often with the tower. Make sure they understand the latest plan for the operation and iterate a communication plan based on this understanding.

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   22 that could justify a waiver, authorization, or other FAA approval. For example, the airport must know:  Will the operation be flying over non-operation personnel?  Will there be a need to fly over 400ft AGL?  Will multiple aircraft be flown at the same time by the same pilot?  Will there be a need to fly beyond the pilot’s visual line-of-sight?  Will the flight be from a moving vehicle or aircraft?  Will there be a need to fly in reduced visibility or cloudy flight conditions?  Will any of it take place at night?  Is it in controlled or restricted airspace? Regarding controlled airspace, the airport may consider whether to pursue an airspace waiver versus an airspace authorization. According to the FAA, an airspace authorization is “[a]ppropriate for short-term operations in a specific location within the class of airspace requested (less than 6 months)” and an airspace waiver is “[a]ppropriate for recurring operations over an extended period of time and may require broad area or blanket access to the class of airspace requested (6 months to 2 years)” (Federal Aviation Administration, 2017). Once these questions have been answered and the corresponding authorizations and waivers identified, the airport should begin writing and submitting the waiver request through the FAA’s DroneZone. Instructions for completing these waivers or authorizations are provided by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration, 2018). In some areas of the country, airports may be able to submit airspace authorization requests using the FAA Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (“LAANC”) system (Federal Aviation Administation, 2018). Where active, LAANC provides a streamlined automated process to apply for and receive airspace authorizations in near real-time for operations in controlled airspace. It is important to note that LAANC cannot currently be used to obtain an airspace authorization that is combined with a Part 107 operational waiver. For example, if an airport holds a night waiver and wants to fly at night in controlled airspace, LAANC cannot be used to obtain the airspace authorization. Instead, the airspace authorization would need to be applied for using the FAA DroneZone. 4.2 Flight Planning In addition to identifying the appropriate waivers, airport UAS operators must develop a flight plan that describes how any UAS activity will be conducted. The flight plan should include the details that answer the who, what, where, and when of the operation. The flight plan will guide any parties involved as they execute and provide a common ground for reference and understanding by any stakeholders, communities, or interested parties. Some example items from flight plans of previously conducted UAS demonstrations are included in this section. Figure 5 offers an overview of components of a UAS operation schedule.

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   23 4.2.1 Establishing Mission Parameters Airports must have a clear understanding of where and when the mission will take place. It will be necessary to determine the time and location of any activities and understand what the max altitude will be and the estimated duration of missions. These parameters will be guided based on the data collection desires, ATC instructions, and equipment choices. To ensure safety is paramount airports should determine what the return-to-home procedure will be for any stage of the operation. This procedure shouldn’t interfere with any airport property or personnel that is not part of the UAS operation and should never interfere with any manned operations. Return-to-home and deconfliction procedures are discussed in more detail later. 4.2.1.1 Reference Map Develop a visualization of the mission area that would allow associated parties to quickly reference and understand the operation. One recommendation is a grid with estimated mission location and parameters. This document should help with understanding the location of personnel and equipment of the operation and effectively convey this information. This will prove helpful when allocating resources, identifying bases of operation, and communicating with law enforcement or emergency personnel. This map does not have to be 100% precise when describing mission parameters and location. Rather, its greatest utility is its easy interpretation and ability to quickly describe the scope of the operation. Figure 6 below is an example of a reference map. Best Practice  A Common Reference Develop a grid of the mission area that can be used for flight planning and reference by any parties involved with the operation.  Identify flight logistics, including: number of flights, number of UAS, distance above  ground level (AGL), flight paths, average mission time, and ensure flights will yield  adequate image overlap for data processing.    Create a Flight Plan and map with the flight logistics clearly labelled.   Identify any impacts to normal airport operations, such as runway or taxiway closures,  delays, etc.   Established communication protocol.  o Non‐towered airports may require continuous reporting and monitoring of  common frequency while towered airports may dictate operation schedule  Figure 5: Overview of important components of flight planning

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   24 4.2.2 Data Collection For the majority of UAS uses, the goal of the operation is to collect data. It is important for the airport to determine what data they want and for what purpose. For example, UAS use for pavement inspection should yield data that an airport can use to support their pavement condition determination (Federal Aviation Administration, 2014). Airport Operators need to determine:  Data Types o What’s expected from this UAS use? Is it high- resolution images? Video? Orthomosaic? Point Cloud? 3D models?  Resolution o What resolutions are sufficient for data collected? 1.3 cm/Pixel ground resolution for pavement inspection? Facial recognition? Survey-grade orthomosaic for construction? Figure 6: Example of a reference grid Figure 7: Example of data output of runway imagery from a high-resolution camera

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   25  Storage o How will this data be stored? Will it be housed on the platform for the duration of the mission? Will you transfer to an external storage as the mission proceeds? Will a cloud infrastructure need to be set up to allow for multiple users to access simultaneously? For most pavement inspection or facility inspection uses, such as that in Figure 7, the operators will have a chance to collect and store the data in between different UAS flights. This is because the UAS platform will likely need a battery swap to continue. This time can be used to transfer the data to storage. However, on more prolonged missions, such as those flown by fixed-wing platforms, there is the risk of running out of storage on the on-board storage unit if multiple missions are flown without any data transfer. Mission types will largely dictate the storage requirements for the operators. Simple RGB surveys would need only several gigabytes of external storage whereas collection of high-resolution images or video would require terabytes or more of external storage. Some data outputs require collation of several images, such as the mosaic in Figure 8, that require more storage than a single image. Having a rough estimate of the file size for certain types of data can help with determining any potential storage issues. It is also essential to factor in outside conditions that might influence that quality of the data collected. Sunlight, vegetation, altitude, and the UAS platform all impact the ability to collect data. For RGB imagery or video data collection, the amount of sunlight available affects whether the data collected is useful for analysis purposes. When planning mission start times in the winter months or at extreme latitudes, sunlight is an important constraint to consider. Vegetation can also block RGB and thermal data collection. During instances where vegetation is a persistent visual obstacle, LiDAR could potentially a good alternative. However, there may be cost and battery/weight constraints that may prevent the adoption of LiDAR. Figure 8: Example output of thermal imagery mosaic

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   26 4.2.3 Communications Protocol The communication protocol for UAS operations is an important consideration to plan for all missions. At towered airports, a preliminary protocol should be developed already from previous coordination activities with the tower. If operating at a non-towered airport, a communication protocol should be developed based around the self- announce procedures described in the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) (Federal Aviation Administration, 2017). An example of some differences when approaching a towered versus non- towered airport are included in Figure 9. This protocol should also be captured in a document that can be referenced by individuals throughout the operation. An example of how to capture this information is included in Figure 10. Figure 10: Sample communications protocol Equipment need must also be identified. The most common equipment needs include a handheld radio, cell phone numbers, spare batteries, and long range vehicle-mounted radios. This is a partial list of communciations equipment, which should be amended based upon the airport’s existing communications practices. Example Communication Equipment/Protocol Towered: Two-way handheld radios. Communicate the start of any mission and request clearance from tower before beginning. Inform the tower when complete and adhere to any additional instructions Non-towered: Two-way handheld and more powerful radios capable of broadcasting outwards over 10 miles. Inform traffic of any intentions at the start of a mission. Report UAS position on airport periodically. Figure 9: Best practices for airport communications at a towered vs. non-towered airport

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   27 4.3 Executing the Operation This section provides guidance and best practices to help during the of the operation. Proper coordination and planning will help the operation execute safer and more efficiently. However, there are a few key steps that should outlined here. 4.3.1 Pre-flight 4.3.1.1 Safety Briefing Before the first flight of the day a pre-flight safety briefing should be conducted. This briefing should be done with any personnel that are affiliated or taking place in the UAS operation for that day present. Its purpose is to ensure that safety is at the forefront of the operation and respect for manned traffic and normal airport operations is upheld. Some items that should always be included in the briefing are:  This safety briefing should cover the day’s operation in high-level detail such that the audience understands where the UAS will be at any point in the day. The reference map generated from your flight planning is helpful.  It should outline the areas where the UAS operators are allowed to access and areas where UAS operators are not allowed to access.  It should reiterate appropriate behavior for any vehicles on the airport affiliated with the UAS operation.  It should cover and confirm the communication protocol and any important frequencies or POCs.  It should cover the location of any emergency or first aid essentials or contact information for obtaining these essentials.  It should include a weather briefing and understanding of limitations. 4.3.1.2 Equipment Check Before the operations, UAS operators should check all equipment to ensure proper function. This will help reduce the risk of any equipment failures during the operation and reduce the risk of any interference to normal operations. Like any manned operations a checklist can be employed to assist in the thorough and complete check of all equipment. An example of the pre-flights checks to be performed is provided in Figure 11.

Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators   28 Figure 11: Example of pre-flight considerations equipment checks 4.3.2 Deconfliction Procedure and Return to Home UAS RPICs must remain cognizant of the Return to Home (RTH) procedure throughout the day. Most UAS platforms have a flexible RTH procedure which can be programmed and changed to fit the dynamic environment of an airport. It is prudent that the RTH procedure does not interfere with any approach or departure corridors or any other trajectories of manned operations. Geo- fencing can also be used to limit the ability of the UAS to fly near or over any sensitive area or restricted areas. The RPIC should be able to quickly communicate to and alert ATC in the event of a lost-link and initiation of RTH procedure. RTH procedures include the following considerations:  Avoiding approach and departure corridors of manned operations  Geo-fencing to avoid trespassing or proximity to restricted or sensitive areas  The ability of the RPIC to maintain visual contact with the UAS  A protocol to communicate with ATC in the event of an RTH procedure It is also the responsibility of the UAS RPIC to remain vigilant of any manned traffic in their vicinity. If operating at a non-towered airport they would have to rely on their own senses and the announcements of the local traffic to understand where activity is occurring on or around the airfield. The UAS crew must interpret intentions of the traffic and determine the safest location to land or most appropriate procedure to deconflict. This adds a layer of complexity to the operation as the crew must constantly be scanning the airspace and the radio to ensure they have enough warning to safely react to any aircraft in the area. Even at a towered airport it may prove difficult to track all aircraft and operations in the area. In such instances the UAS crew must rely on the tower and the crew’s ability to detect aircraft in the vicinity through sight and sound. The crews should comply with all ATC commands and state all of their intentions as understood by the communication protocol.

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Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators Get This Book
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Introduction of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will pose safety, economic, operational, regulatory, community, environmental, and infrastructure challenges to airports. These risks are further complicated by the dynamic nature of UAS technological development. Experiences and lessons learned from recent major aviation system changes demonstrate the critical importance of ensuring that airports have the resources needed to avoid adverse impacts and maximize benefits as early as possible.

This pre-publication draft of ACRP (Airport Cooperative Research Program) Research Report 212: Airports and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Volume 3: Potential Use of UAS by Airport Operators provides airports with resources to appropriately integrate UAS missions as part of their standard operations. The use of UAS by airports can result in efficiency gains if implemented effectively. However, improper implementation will cause safety risks and damage effective airport operations.

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 2: Incorporating UAS into Airport Infrastructure—Planning Guidebook provides planning, operational, and infrastructure guidance to safely integrate existing and anticipated UAS operations into an airport environment.

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