Understanding the new FAA Type Certification for UAVs

 

On February 3rd the FAA formally issued its new proposed rule for comment on the Type Certification process for small UAS. This is a big regulatory step where the FAA recognizes that the industry is moving / has moved beyond the inflection point where the innovation of aerial autonomy is being stagnated by regulatory hurdles. 

What is Type Certification? 
Type Certification, or “TC,” is the method the FAA uses to ensure aircraft safety. For new aircraft, it’s an exhaustive process, testing everything from landing gear to engine noise. This process can take years, and ultimately certifies a model (or “type”) of aircraft as safe and airworthy. Once a model is certified, small modifications and patches can be made over time that requires a less exhaustive process. The Boeing 737-100 was first certified in 1967. Since that initial Type Certificate was issued, there have been nearly twenty “amended” certificates awarded to Boeing for its subsequent variations, including the 737-MAX.  

Type Certificate Data Sheet – Courtesy of Faa.Gov

How does Type Certification apply to UAVs? 
When the FAA launched the Part 107 rule it created a framework that helped drive the commercial use of UAS in a variety of industries. From measuring stockpiles to airport runway inspection to open-pit mining, drones have become a valuable part of the everyday workflow across a wide variety of organizations – but not without limitations. As the technology of autonomy has progressed, the Part 107 restrictions have become a barrier for further implementation. Whether it be flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), flying at night, or flying over people, innovative companies have begun to see these restrictions as a hurdle to overcome. To operate beyond the restrictions imparted by Part 107 requires an FAA waiver, which itself puts a significant number of technical requirements on the software, hardware, and operator. Type Certification of UAS pre-certifies the software and hardware requirements, opening the door for an accelerated waiver approval process for companies using this Type Certified hardware.  

The certification process is very in-depth and requires hundreds of hours of test flights, failure injection tests, and exhaustive analysis of both the airframe and controller. Vehicles that make it through this Type Certification process and gain approval will have been put through the paces to ensure safety.  

Impacts on the Drone Industry 
It’s no secret that companies like Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, and UPS are working toward UAS package delivery, and that in-turn is already conceptually outside of the Part 107 scope. As the FAA is working to clear the runway for drone delivery through mechanisms like the Part 135 certification, this new Type Certification process will further help certify the hardware being used for commercial drone usages.  

Local government has an important role to play 
With the ability to quickly get waivers for BVLOS (or other waivers) comes an acceleration of companies looking to implement drones in a variety of commercial applications and innovate in the economy of tomorrow. Like turn-of-the-20th century cars hitting dirt roads made for horses, drones present a unique challenge for communities to understand the innovations happening in UAV technologies, and where to put up curbs when necessary while still allowing room for economic development. Being able to quickly have medical supplies or food delivered needs to be weighed against public safety and mitigating the risks on the ground. While the hardware may have been exhaustively tested and certified, the path the drone takes over a city has not. Will it fly over a hospital helipad? Over an in-session school? Over a house fire? 

 

 

Public safety is a primary concern of local government, but so too is community and economic development. The Ford Model-T was invented in 1908, but it wasn’t until 1914 that the first electric traffic light was installed, merging public safety, economic development, and the entrepreneurship of private industry.  

Over one-hundred years later, the drone industry seems poised to again merge public safety, economic development, and the entrepreneurship of the public and private industries. Type Certification, Remote ID, and other integrated technologies address the hardware – but the highways in the sky still fall to the state and local governments to build. Airspace Link works with state and local governments to provide a way to understand ground-based risks and prepare for the coming autonomous economy. Understanding what’s happening on the ground is as important as what’s happening in the air. Airspace Link’s AirHub for Government is a set of tools for State & Local Government to communicate ground-based risk to the drone industry, can quickly analyze, report, and publish drone highways for communities by supporting real-time advisories. Cities or States can quickly and easily publish events, emergencies, or known airspace advisories and merge those advisories with authoritative local data including the locations of hospitals, schools, and other areas of safety or public interest. 

 

AirHub for Government

Airspace Link is also an FAA LAANC provider – our software, AirHub for Pilots, is a tool for drone pilots to authorize flights in controlled airspace and integrates the authoritative data, local ordinances, and ground-based risks of the state and local community from AirHub for Government. 

 

AirHub for Pilots

The AirHub software suite helps state and local communities be prepared to welcome drone companies with confidence, whether it be delivery companies with a Type 135 certification, or commercial companies using this new Type Certification.  

To learn more about AirHub for Government and Pilots, please contact us

Tags: Drones, UAV, Drones in Government, AirHub, Drone Regulations, FAA, Type Certification, Part 107, Part 135, Drone Delivery, economic development, critical infrastructure, FAA