FAA focused on airspace safety following UAV and CRJ200 near miss

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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is focused on safely integrating unmanned air vehicles (UAV) into the national airspace system, says administrator Michael Huerta.

Concerns over UAVs interacting with commercial and general aviation aircraft have increased following a near miss between a PSA Airlines-operated Bombardier CRJ200 and a UAV near Tallahassee, Florida, in March.

“There’s a lot of concern – you really hear it across the general aviation industry – how these aircraft interact with other aircraft under visual flight rules conditions,” says Huerta at the Regional Airlines Association (RAA) convention in St. Louis today. “How do we ensure that there are systems in place with technical certification standards for the aircraft and training standards for the operators? These are all things that we need to sort out and we need to work through.”

The UAV industry has “great potential” despite all of the concerns, also including personal privacy, that surround it, he adds.

“It’s a very dynamic industry,” says Huerta. “We recognise that we need to respond to it but the thing we care about is we need to ensure we can integrate them safely.”

The FAA plans to release a small UAV rule and hopes to authorise limited commercial use of the aircraft later in 2014, he says. Congress has mandated the regulator to fully integrate UAVs into the national air system by 2015.

The regulator has already authorised limited commercial UAV use in Alaska for surveying activities.

The near miss occurred at 2,300ft as the CRJ200 operating as US Airways Express was on approach to Tallahassee on 22 March, said Jim Williams, head of the FAA's unmanned air systems (UAS) office, earlier in May.

"The risk for a small UAS to be ingested into a passenger airline engine is very real," said Williams. "Imagine a metal and plastic object, especially that big lithium battery, going into a high-speed turbine engine. The results could be catastrophic."