Committee on Assessing the Risks of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration, Assessing the Risks of Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (2018) (full-text).
The Committee examined the various ways that risk can be defined and applied to integrating UAS into the National Airspace System managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The committee looked at recent developments in this field and consulted numerous experts in academia, industry, and government. The committee drew the following key conclusions, listed alphabetically:
- Consider the de minimis risk. With regard to the risk that an aircraft accident poses to people on the ground, the public already accepts a background level of risk that is extraordinarily low. The public also accepts the higher level of risk that the crew and passengers of general aviation aircraft currently face, likely because the vast majority of the public does not fly in general aviation aircraft and has no intention of doing so. The public also accepts that medical evacuation helicopters face a risk that is higher still. The level of acceptable de minimis risks varies widely for other societal activities such as traveling by car or motorcycle, swimming in the ocean, or walking across the street. Understanding the level of de minimis risk that the public is likely to accept for small UAS operations, in the context of levels of de minimis risk for other levels of societal activities, would be useful in establishing safety standards for small UAS operations.
- Consider the safety benefits. Some UAS operations will increase safety both inside and outside the aviation system. These safety benefits could be considered as UAS operations are considered for approval.
- Delegate responsibility. Where it can be demonstrated that the risk is low enough and can be mitigated in this manner, the FAA could delegate to the UAS industry responsibility for quantitative risk assessment activities for UAS operations or it could require the UAS industry to obtain insurance for UAS operations in lieu of having a separate risk analysis.
- One size does not fit all. The level of FAA scrutiny for approval of a UAS operation needs to match the level of potential risk.
- Philosophy is not reflected in the practice. FAA executives speak about the importance of taking a performance- and risk-based approach for approval of UAS operations, with streamlining where appropriate. However, the committee heard both from within the FAA and from the UAS industry that such an approach is not being reflected in actual approvals of UAS operations.
- Promote the systematic collection and analysis of empirical data. Such collection and analysis is needed to inform the evolution of quantitative risk assessment for UAS operations.
- The FAA Safety Management System (SMS) process as applied to approval of UAS operations is highly subjective. Because of its qualitative nature as applied to UAS operations, the SMS process is not repeatable and not predictable. Quantitative risk assessment techniques are needed.