While the FAA has released the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that provides some direction for commercial small UAS operations in the US, the regulatory environment remains challenging. Organizations wanting to prepare for commercial operations are faced with many gray areas as they attempt to build and manage UAS programs that comply with the requirements. Safety standards, maintenance requirements, operating procedures, airworthiness standards—all of these topics need clear definition and documentation to develop a safe and consistent environment for UAS operations.
Until standards are established, details appear to be up to the discretion of the UAS operator, which is certain to lead to misunderstandings and subsequent court cases. Jeff Cozart, CEO of Juniper Unmanned, a full-service provider of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) solutions, is involved in industry efforts to establish airworthiness standards. “It is crucial for the industry to develop and adopt standards that will help guide insurance companies, operators and manufacturers in establishing responsibility if and when there are accidents,” said Cozart. “To establish liability for damage or injury, we don’t want a judge determining whether or not the system was airworthy, we want him deciding whether appropriate standards were followed. Standards will include proper inspection of aircraft, certification that engineering of the aircraft is adequate and that maintenance is adequate.”
Cozart recently spoke to the Colorado State Chapter of MAPPS about the challenge of complying with regulations that have not been clearly defined, and how complex and time consuming the preparation for commercial operations really is. He estimates it will take a UAS owner/operator at least 18 months to get up and running if starting from scratch. This effort includes time to research hardware and software options, procure the necessary equipment, train staff, obtain a Section 333 Exemption or COA, and set up processes and procedures to comply with all regulations.
Juniper Unmanned was formed to facilitate the use of UAS. “We provide our clients with a pre-made solution for their regulatory compliance, procedures, operational management,
and applications,” Cozart told the group of seasoned geospatial professionals. “Instead of spending the next 18 months trying to figure out how to make UAS work, companies and government entities simply ‘plug-in’ to the Juniper system and go. Our clients would rather be out flying and maximizing their return on investment than filing documents and managing the back-end.”
Juniper Unmanned is currently identified on Section 333 applications with eight manufacturers for 14 UAS systems. Juniper’s pilots train with the manufacturers to become certified trainers on specific aircraft, and then train operators at customer locations. In the future two regional training centers in the US will be established. The 16 staff members of Juniper Unmanned have backgrounds in academia, the military, and industry, specifically mining, oil and gas and large construction. By applying its UAS expertise in the areas of risk management, applications development and data systems and analysis, the company provides an end-to-end solution without competing with its own partners and clients. To jumpstart any organization’s UAS business, Juniper offers services in the areas of program design, system procurement, regulatory compliance, airworthiness processes, safety and risk management processes, procedural documentation, training, flight planning, data processing and analysis, and product and application processing.
“There won’t be anybody involved in the geospatial community that isn’t strongly impacted by UAS in a few years. Professionals in this field are experiencing a sea change in the way we do our work,” Cozart said. “Developing successful commercial UAS operations is an ongoing process. As with any new technology being adopted, we have to learn incrementally and identify the best practices. This iterative approach will play out over the foreseeable future, and by consolidating our experience and knowledge and working together, we will hopefully move implementation along more quickly.”