An Implementation Strategy for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

An implementation strategy should follow a well-defined hierarchy of considerations that moves from general requirements down to a narrow guideline for actual flight operations.  Taking this into account, a process might follow a protocol such as:

  1. Define the mission requirements and justify the use of UAV over manned vehicles;
  2. Use mission requirements to define UAV attributes and drive selection;
  3. Establish mission profile;
  4. Define how to accomplish the profile safely;
  5. Identify critical safety hazards and establish associated risk (e.g. lost link); and
  6. Identify ethics, to include privacy, considerations and mitigations.

While no means comprehensive, this general outline should serve to initiate planning for responsible mission accomplishment.

One must first begin with defining the unmanned aerial system (UAS) need.   The requirement for a UAS must be established over another manned platform or ground-based system, both well known entities.  This, naturally, leads to a determination of the type of UAS, e.g. quadcopter or fixed wing, to meet the mission requirements.  These requirements may necessitate long endurance rather than hovering in a fixed location, or large payload capacity instead of small size.  There may be a tradeoff between the optimal system and cost, or other parameters, but a comprehensive requirements discussion makes prioritizing capabilities much easier.  Once a UAS is decided upon, the implementation of that system can then be brought into focus.

After defining the specific mission set and what results are being sought, the next step is to establish the flight profile and safety parameters (Weibel and Hansman, 2005).  In general, looking at the gross components of the operations is a starting point.  For example, operators, the UAS itself, the environment it will be operated in, and the support/preparation required to fly it are four areas of focus to ascertain hazards or liabilities.  Another method is to “fly” the mission in a vacuum to see the flight on its own, and then reintroduce the operating environment in layers to establish hazards.  In either case, once those hazards are identified, the associated risk (probability x severity) can be derived and procedures put in place for dealing with more critical ones.  For example, consider losing communication/link between the operator and vehicle.  Many small UAS have automated actions in response to this occurrence.  These usually consist of some variation of return-to-home programming.  This is easier in line-of-sight (LOS) mode/short distances.  In longer distances beyond line-of-sight (BLOS), auto-return becomes more complex as more variables are introduced into the problem.  BLOS, by definition, introduces distance and obstacles and the variance in number of responses becomes an issue. The desired response becomes a function of where the vehicle will be operating, how it recovers (e.g. airport or field), and the environment in between the operator, the recovery point and the vehicle.   Different responses may be better depending on distance or altitude.  Analysis of most likely scenarios is needed in complex cases.  These types of considerations, using lost link as an example, are imperative and make establishing a responsible profile satisfying an accountability burden paramount.

Once the mission profile is established and safety mitigations defined, the ethics of flying can be considered.   Obviously, the operator must follow all established regulations in place for UAS flight such as certification/registration, airspace deconfliction, and general airworthiness (Mohammed, 2014).  The safety process addresses some of these issues, but aside from regulatory compliance the operator is obliged to minimize the effects of the UAV, such as disturbance or nuisance impacts, on the general public or natural environment (Finn, 2014).  A specific case exists in addressing privacy concerns.  Capturing, broadcasting, or recording video of persons in what could be reasonable construed as private spaces or settings should be minimized to the maximum extent possible.  If such imagery is inadvertently captured, it should be redacted or obscured in a manner that respects the privacy of the individuals affected.  A simple guideline here is the Golden Rule.

By following a process similar to this general outline, each mission can be evaluated in a similar, and methodical way.  Having a strategy and process demonstrates professional responsibility and due diligence, and establishes safe, effective, and respectful flight operations.

References

Finn, U., Rachel, L., Wright, D. (2012). Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Surveillance, Ethics and Privacy in Civil Applications.  Computer Law & Security Review, Volume 28, (2). 184-194.

Mohammed, F., Idries, A., Mohamed, N., Al-Jaroodi, J., Jawhar, I. (2014, June 26).  UAVs for Smart Cities: Opportunities and Challenges.  Presented at International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Orlando, Florida.  DOI: 10.1109/ICUAS.2014.6842265

Weibel, R., Hansman, R. (2005, March).  Safety Considerations for Operation of Unmanned Vehicles in the National Airspace System.  MIT International Center for Air Transportation, Report No. ICAT-2005-1.

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