Airport Business

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

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Page 38 of 43

LEGAL MATTERS December 2017/January 2018 airportbusiness 39 broad reach of the FAA. Its mandate includes the vast majority of U.S. airspace with gener- alized preemption of state and local controls by decree of the U.S. Supreme Court. Under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the FAA already regulates UAS and has set initial maximums for altitude (400 feet), weight (55 pounds), airspeed (100 mph) and other aspects of legally authorized UAS operation. The FAA's reach extends to the airport envi- ronment itself, where most air traffic controllers are FAA employees and even those working for the Contract Tower Program must follow FAA procedures, subject to monitoring and surveil- lance. With the exception of uncontrolled air- ports that lack towers, no aircraft uses a runway and nothing stirs on airport movement surfaces without FAA sanction. If the FAA shuts down all operations, the airport is essentially on lockdown — conditions in which it is perfectly safe for trained, mon- itored and authorized operators to fly UAS in service of defined tasks. Pausing activity in this way would hardly be unprecedented: Airports and the FAA routinely work together to put a temporary halt to operations as part of inspec- tion schedules or for emergency response. THE DRONE REVOLUTION TAKES OFF The revolution in UAS continues to bring new capabilities and efficiencies to a wide array of entities in both the private and public sec- tors. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is a case in point. Prior to embracing UAS, NTSB investigators would walk accident debris fields to map them by hand in a meticu- lous and time-consuming process. Today, they fly drones over these areas to map them in a fraction of that time. Employing UAS in this way also gives NTSB an overhead, permanent record of the accident site. In the private sector, companies are using drones to inspect pipelines, power lines and railroad tracks; to dust crops; to enhance the security of parking lots or other expansive areas; to get aerial shots for movies and TV shows; and to inspect or photograph properties for insurance or real estate purposes, to name just a few uses of UAS. While drones are cheaper, more readily avail- able and easier to pilot than ever before, they are not in and of themselves new (the U.S. mili- tary has used UAS for 30 years). Often, the real advances can be found in the types of sensors and cameras hanging from the drones. These technologies are often light years more advanced than the plastic and carbon fiber vehicles them- selves. By combining UAS with remote-sensing Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technol- ogy, archeologists have discovered new sites in areas already explored by trowel, everywhere from Stonehenge to the Giza Plateau. POTENTIAL UAS BENEFITS FOR AIRPORTS As these types of technologies continue their rapid evolution, they will offer greater potential benefit to airports. Instead of sending multiple human beings and vehicles onto the runways to look for FOD, a drone with debris-detection sensors could execute the same task with greater accuracy and in less time. Along the same lines, specialized UAS could improve the efficiency of snow-and-ice inspections at large airports in the Northeast. Armed with ultra high-resolution cameras, drones could aid in the detailed external inspection of aircraft fuselages, possibly eliminating the need to put inspectors on scaffolds or basket trucks. UAS could even be employed to monitor or deter birds/wildlife at or near airports. As far as secu- rity is concerned, drones clearly add enormous capabilities. A drone with night vision could spot a trespasser lurking around the airport and record the evidence. None of this is to suggest that drones are a must-have for all airports. With respect to FOD, many airports already employ electronic, fixed-in- place systems that rely upon various types of sensors or radars to detect debris. These systems also operate 24/7. They are, however, quite cost- ly. For some airports, using a drone to examine the runways several times a day could be a good option. THE REGULATORY DIMENSION While drones are currently prohibited from operating at airports, in all likelihood FAA could approve their use without a regulatory change. One could imagine a port authority or airport requesting an FAA waiver to allow the use of UAS for FOD inspections. So long as both the airport's director of operations and the manag- er of the ATC tower were in agreement about the proposed use of the drone, it is conceivable FAA would consent to the waiver. The new use would trigger a discussion among FAA officials in Washington of the appropriate procedures and processes required to ensure safety. My vote would be for the aviation industry to start thinking about these possibilities now. The average person sees drones as a threat to air safety. Federal officials and airports would do well to question this wisdom. UAS could be a boon to airport efficiency and safety, possibly allowing for better monitoring of unauthorized drone flights. UAS is one of the fastest-growing segments in aviation. Why ground the tech- nology at airports when, under controlled con- ditions, it could yield valuable new perspectives? Veteran aviaƟon aƩorney Mark A. Dombroff is an Alexandria, Va.- based shareholder in LeClairRyan and co-leader of the naƟonal law firm's aviaƟon industry pracƟce; Mark A Dombroff ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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