Acknowledging “significant challenges,” the Federal Aviation Administration released its first roadmap outlining the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace.

Currently, commercial use of UAS is prohibited in the United States. The roadmap—required by Congress—outlines current and future policies and regulations Ux5_INBODYas well as the hurdles that must be overcome to meet a 2015 deadline for incorporation into the national airspace system.

Integration of civilian UAS could have a major impact on the geospatial community as the technology could be used in applications such as aerial mapping, infrastructure surveying and 3D topographical modeling.

But the FAA admitted that there is a long way to go.

“Government and industry face significant challenges as unmanned aircraft move into the aviation mainstream,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox said in a press release. “This roadmap is an important step forward that will help stakeholders understand the operational goals and safety issues we need to consider when planning for the future of our airspace.”

In a letter at the start of the roadmap (a 74-page, PDF document which can be viewed on the FAA’s website), FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the FAA and UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee had worked for the past year on the roadmap.

“The FAA is committed to safe, efficient and timely integration of UAS into our airspace,” Huerta said in a statement. “We are dedicated to moving exciting new technology along as quickly and safely as possible.”

The FAA still plans to announce six test sites for UAS use by the end of the year, where the agency hopes not only to conduct critical research but also examine privacy concerns that have been raised by many citizens and members of Congress. According to the roadmap, each test site must establish a privacy policy that will apply to the operations.

In addition, the FAA will continue to accommodate limited UAS access to the nation’s airspace on a case-by-case basis. Government agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, have been able to obtain certificates of waiver authorization (COAs) to conduct unmanned aircraft projects in the United States.

Furthermore, the FAA says that progress needs to happen in three areas: sense and avoid technology; control and communications; and human factors.

Michael Toscano, the president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), praised the FAA in a statement released via email.

“AUVSI applauds the FAA for taking this important step toward integrating UAS and recognizing the many societal and economic benefits that will follow,” Toscano said. “From advancing scientific research and responding to natural disasters to locating missing persons and helping to fight wildfires, UAS can save time, save money, and, most importantly, save lives. In addition, the technology will be a boon for our nation’s economy. AUVSI’s economic report projects that the expansion of UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following the integration.

“AUVSI also applauds the FAA for setting forth a privacy policy for UAS test sites that affirms the strength of existing federal and state privacy laws,” Toscano added. “As an industry, we believe privacy is important, and that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and subsequent court decisions provide a robust legal framework that protects Americans’ right to privacy.”

The UAS Roadmap and UAS Comprehensive Plan are available on the FAA website.