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Current Landscape of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports (2019)

Chapter: Chapter 2 - Study Methodology

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Study Methodology." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Current Landscape of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25659.
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Page 15
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Study Methodology." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Current Landscape of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25659.
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Page 16

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15 C H A P T E R 2 Before data from airports on this topic of UAS metrics was gathered for the synthesis, the liter- ature on this topic was reviewed. Specifically, an extensive literature search was conducted on the topic of UA and UAS through Google, Google Scholar, One Search (powered by EBSCO), TRID database (integrated database that combines the records from TRB’s Transportation Research Information Services Database and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Devel- opment’s Joint Transport Research Centre’s International Transport Research Documentation Database), and the websites of the AMA, the AUVSI, and the FAA. Next, an effort was made to define the population for this synthesis. The focus of this synthesis was on airports that operate UAS, or allow contractors or tenants to operate UAS on airports. Unfortunately, there was no authoritative list available of airports that met these criteria. To better define the population of airports for this synthesis, based on suggestions by the topic panel, e-mails were sent to all 50 state DOT officials in the United States, as defined by the National Association of State Aviation Officials, inquiring about the specific airports in their state that own or operate UAS, or allow contractors or tenants to operate UAS on airport. Although the majority of state officials indicated that none of their airports met these criteria, some states did answer in the affirmative and provided specific airports to contact for more information. If the state official indicated specific airports that utilize UAS, even if more than three airports in a state, these airports were included in the study. Of those states where the state official had no knowledge, or of those states who did not respond to the e-mail, three airports were randomly selected from each state. To be included in the randomized list, the airport had to be covered by the FAA’s LAANC program, which contained 476 airports at the time of this study. Of the sample size of 166 airports throughout the United States included in the study, 150 represented three airports from each state (50 × 3), while 16 additional airports were included based on guidance from state DOTs. To gather the intended data, a web-based survey platform was used. It was anticipated that an online survey protocol would result in a greater response rate than mailed surveys, garner faster response, and be more economical than telephone interviews. The survey was developed based on knowledge gained during the literature review, discussions with state aviation officials, and feedback from the project panel. Following a project panel pretest, the survey instrument was further refined. Utilizing the survey platform, 166 e-mail survey invitations were sent on January 2, 2019. Two e-mails bounced, and four recipients opted out. To adequately represent the number of recipi- ents that would have an opportunity to participate in the study, the sample size was adjusted to 160. To enhance response rate, two e-mail follow-ups were planned to be made with non- respondents throughout the study. The first e-mail follow-up was sent to 129 nonrespondents on January 7, 2019. The second e-mail follow-up was sent to 95 nonrespondents on January 11, 2019. Study Methodology

16 Current Landscape of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports After this second telephone follow-up, the study had garnered 81 responses, yielding a 49% response rate. Telephone follow-ups then commenced with the 85 nonrespondents in an effort to obtain a higher response rate. If requested, the survey was completed via the phone. The survey was closed on February 2, 2019, after 130 responses had been received, yielding a project response rate of 81.3%. As indicated in Figure 8, the survey participants represent most U.S. states. As part of the synthesis, case examples were developed to showcase unique uses of UAS by airports or state DOTs (Figure 9). To gain a deeper understanding of these cases, phone calls and e-mails were conducted as appropriate. Each airport/state highlighted in a case example was afforded the opportunity to review their case and suggest revisions prior to final form. Figure 8. Map indicating states represented in survey responses (states in blue had at least one airport participant). Figure 9. Aerial view of airfield mowing operation by UAS, Centennial Airport (Photo credit: Michael Fronapfel 2018).

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The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry is on the cutting edge of aviation innovation. Airports, including tenants and contractors, are discovering the benefits of UAS to their operations and bottom line. Yet, with the diversity of UAS applications at airports, there has been a lack of relevant industry data on this topic to inform the airport industry on current practices.

The TRB Airport Cooperative Research Program's ACRP Synthesis 104: Current Landscape of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports seeks to understand the degree of UAS use, including specific applications, by three groups: airports, airport contractors, and airport tenants.

Using responses from 130 airports, one of the report's findings is that approximately 9% of participating airports are actively using UAS for airport purposes.

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