True integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System will only come when advanced designs finally receive type certification. The FAA has clearly been working on certification issues behind the scenes, and is finally ready to make the next step public. The FAA has finally decided to seek public input on the criteria that it will use to certify these cutting edge UAS designs.
Since November 20th, the FAA has published its design criteria for eight aircraft and opened a 30-day window to allow the public to provide comments. The information for each aircraft can be found in the Federal Register by clicking on the following links:
A review of the information in the Federal Register reveals several interesting things. First, it is clear that the design certification work was not necessarily a matter of first-in, first-out. While the request for public input for all eight aircraft is being made simultaneously, it is clear that some of the designers have been working with the FAA certification office for a long time. The following chart lists each design project in chronological order with the date the FAA indicates the designer first filed their application.
|Date of Application
for Design Certification
|Amazon Logistics, Inc., (Amazon)
||October 13, 2017
||May 21, 2018
||March 18, 2019
|Zipline International Inc.
||March 25, 2019
|Percepto Robotics, Ltd.
||August 1, 2019
||September 25, 2019
|UASTELEGRID Technologies, Inc.
||February 24, 2020
||March 17, 2020
The FAA statements also reveal that the heaviest of the aircraft is the Amazon MK27, which weighs in at 89 pounds. Two of the aircraft are just below 55 pounds, the Wingcopter Model 198 at 53 pounds and the Zipline Sparrow at 50 pounds. The remaining aircraft weigh between 23 and 34 pounds.
The design criteria proposed by the FAA require the manufacturers to provide, in detail, fifteen different categories of information, including:
- Concept of Operations
- Control Station
- Cyber Security
- Contingency Planning
- Lightning Protection
- Operation in Adverse Weather Conditions
- Critical Parts
- Flight Manual
- Instructions for Continued Airworthiness
- Durability and Reliability
- Probable Failures
- Capabilities and Functions
- Verification of Operational Limits
Because the FAA is using a risk-based approach to certification under 14 C.F.R. § 21.17(b), as a practical matter, the certification of each aircraft will be driven by the first consideration, the Concept of Operations. For example, a larger aircraft that flies beyond visual line of sight at night over populated areas will have to make a much higher showing of an equivalent level of safety than a smaller aircraft that is going to be limited to flights over water or unpopulated areas.
Overall, this is an extremely important step forward. The fact that the FAA is simultaneously publishing the criteria for such a large group of aircraft indicates that we can expect big developments in this area in 2021.