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Fri, Sep 29, 2006

Lockheed, FAA Working To Integrate UAVs In US Airspace

Developing Five-Year 'Road Map'

The FAA has selected Lockheed Martin to help develop a “Road Map” for introducing UAVs into the National Airspace System.

Lockheed Martin will assist the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Program Office in refining its operating plans and budgetary requirements by creating a five-year road map of government and industry Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) initiatives.  Lockheed is to evaluate the current state of UAS mission needs, forecast their near-term demands on airspace capacity and chart a strategic plan to safely integrate their operations into the nation’s airspace.

Lockheed Martin project leader Ken Geiselhart says, “By identifying the mission needs, operating environments and platforms expected for unmanned aircraft, and then mapping them against manufacturer plans and FAA certification timelines, we seek to provide the FAA with the ‘big-picture’ of the emerging UAS market and its subsequent impact on the nation's airspace resources.”

The current UAS market in the United States is primarily driven by government customers at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others.  Today, according to FAA, more than 50 manufacturers offer nearly 150 UAS products, with many others poised to enter the commercial marketplace.

“Lockheed Martin is uniquely qualified to lead this next-generation initiative,” said Sue Corcoran, vice president of Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions.  Lockheed brings expertise in both air traffic management and UAS technologies to the table.

In a release, Lockheed says 60 percent of the world's commercial air traffic is monitored and controlled by Lockheed Martin air traffic systems.

There are concerns though... Many general aviation users of the national airspace system have expressed fears that safety might be compromised. When operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR), pilots in all aircraft are expected to both see and avoid other aircraft. Without a pilot in the UAV, that aircraft is unable to "see," and therefore unable to avoid other aircraft.

Additionally, the size of many smaller UAVs would make them very difficult, if not impossible, for pilots to spot in time to avoid a colllision.

Another concern is the government, being unable to ensure safety, might institute flight restrictions on VFR aircraft where UAVs are operating instead. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, representing more than 400,000 US pilots, feels there already enough restrictions on flight as it is. That organization has tangled with the FAA several times over these concerns.

FMI: www.lockheedmartin.com, www.aopa.org

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