Field Tests Conducted in Georgia Recommend Implementing Safety Precautions and Liability Management Strategies When Operating Unmanned Aerial Systems Near Civilians.
Field-Test-Based Guideline Development for the Integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) in GDOT Operations
In the United States, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are being increasingly used for both government and civilian applications; however, the effectiveness of UAS for civilian applications has not been clearly determined. To better understand the limitations and advantages of UAS adoption, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) conducted a two year study beginning in April 2016 to develop recommendations for the integration and deployment of UAS technologies. Three focus group sessions were conducted with a total of 17 GDOT personnel from divisions within the department. The feedback was used to create a list of procedures that should be followed when utilizing UAS technology. A total of seven field tests (two airports, two railroads, one road construction site, and two bridges) were conducted, during which multiple UAS were used to collect data. From the data collected, the study assessed the usefulness and usability of the process and the products obtained and established integration guidelines and recommendations. The study then analyzed the legal and social implications of UAS integration into GDOT operations, modifying them to ensure that they were compatible with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines.
- Determine whether privacy is a concern when planning flights and what safety precautions are needed when operating near civilians, then implement a liability management strategy. UAS pilots in command (PICs) should avoid capturing images of civilians unless they are related to the project. When operating UAS in areas near civilians (e.g., active airports), liability management strategies can provide PICs with clear guidelines on how to perform tasks.
- Develop flight plans before employing a UAS for operations and serving as a PIC. Plans must include the following: the identification of the class of airspace that the operation will occur in, forecasted weather conditions, and diagram(s) of the area (with takeoff, main landing, and alternative landing areas). PICs should also provide statements explaining the purpose and tasks of the operation, and the expected flight duration.
- Monitor the UAS ground control station during autonomous UAS flights. Autonomous flights must follow UAS flight plans; additional tasks not outlined in the plan should not be conducted. PICs (and, if necessary, visual observers) should monitor these flights accordingly.
- Evaluate the intended operation to determine which technology is best suited for data collection. During the field tests, several platform types were used, such as different sizes of multi-rotor and fixed wing UAS models. Depending on the task performed, some were found to be more useful than others.
- Complete pre- and post-flight checklists and track the performance of UAS implementation. Flight plans, statements of purpose and tasks, and pre- and post-flight checklists should be evaluated to determine issues and the most common uses of the collected data. Statements should include the expected flight duration. These documents are to be used to keep the UAS flight records up to date and will help determine the effectiveness of UAS integration into operations. Equipment malfunctions should be noted in the appropriate post-flight checklist.
- Ensure the security of the collected data and its accessibility to interested personnel. Agencies should apply chosen methods to ensure data security. If a third party (e.g., a contractor) is used to perform UAS operations, existing procedures regarding data transfer should be implemented.
- Develop a communication plan between PICs and visual observers. Emergency plans and contingency procedures must be included. Battery life and flight speed should also be considered to ensure that the flight will be conducted with enough battery to safely land, and that the flight speed does not go above 100 miles per hour (MPH).
- Consider the usage of advanced sensors to automate data collection and analysis. Utilizing these sensors for infrastructural inspections and management, environmental monitoring, and emergency tasks can help collect additional data. Sensors can then be automated to assess infrastructure according to given criteria.
- Establish a dedicated group within your agency's department for UAS data collection to serve the various areas of the department. This approach would centralize all aspects related to the acquisition, use, and maintenance of UAS. Having such a dedicated group personnel need to be trained properly to ensure that personnel properly collect and process data.
- Employ third-parties for certain applications. Certain tasks can be performed by a third-party in a shorter time and more efficiently when the inspection area is large. In this study, for example, this was noted in tasks related to airport inspections.