US developing public unmanned aircraft incident reporting system

Idea is to shape safe, effective, and lawful use of sUAS by law enforcement agencies.

It sounds like a good idea - develop an online system of publically reporting and disseminating problems or incidents stemming from the use of unmanned aircraft in the public airspace.

In practice you'd have to wonder if such a system would get used much because it seems like the system has just a few caveats.

Specifically the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice is looking for proposals to develop, host, and maintain a web-based, online flight data and incident reporting system to, subject to law enforcement and national security concerns and limitations:

1.    Collect fight-operations data from law enforcement and other public safety agencies from their use of sUAS (or small Unmanned Aircraft Systems defined as UAS weighing less than 55 lbs).

2.    Make that information publically available for analysis by entities interested in the use of sUAS in the national air space.

3.    In making this data readily accessible to the public, NIJ seeks to make possible further research and study of law enforcement and public safety sUAS flight operations, and through such research to improve the safety and increase the operational efficiency of law enforcement sUAS operations.

The NIJ says its ultimate goal for this solicitation - which could be worth $250,000 if a contract is awarded -- is to foster the safe, effective, and lawful use of sUAS by law enforcement agencies.

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The NIJ went on to says that the actual system will be designed through a collaborative process involving the successful applicant, NIJ, the FAA and other stakeholder organizations, the applicant should propose its own system design.

Here's where it gets tricky though.

From the NIJ: "Among other topics, the proposal should address scalability, as the number of agencies operating sUAS are expected to grow. It should also address what the applicant sees to be potential data fields. The proposal should also address the nature of the agreements the applicant anticipates entering into with the law enforcement and other public safety agencies providing the data that will populate the database, including the understanding that law enforcement and other public safety agencies may not be able to provide data due to law enforcement sensitivity or national security needs. The discussion should also identify how any sensitive information that may be provided would be protected, or how agencies with limitations due to law enforcement sensitivity or national security concerns can supply use and safety of flight information for missions without compromising sensitive or classified operations."

The NIJ request comes on the heels of the FAA announcing that the first of six test sites chosen to perform unmanned aircraft systems research is operational more than two-and-a -half months ahead of the deadline specified for the program by Congress.

The FAA said it had granted the North Dakota Department of Commerce team a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to begin using a Draganflyer X4ES small UAS at itsNorthern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site. The COA is effective for two years. The team plans to begin flight operations during the week of May 5.

While supporting a North Dakota State University/Extension Service precision agriculture project, the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site also will collect safety-related operational data needed for UAS airspace integration. The information will help the FAA analyze current processes for establishing small UAS airworthiness and system maturity. Maintenance data collected during site operations will support a prototype database for UAS maintenance and repair.

From the FAA, the other test sites include:

  • University of Alaska.  The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation.  Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations. 
  • State of Nevada. Nevada's project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant's research will also include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with NextGen.  Nevada's selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.
  • New York's Griffiss International Airport.  Griffiss International plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aid in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.
  • Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi.  Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).  Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

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