The FAA has decades of experience regulating the safety of manned aircraft but less than a decade regulating the safety aspects of unmanned aircraft in the NAS. This has caused the FAA to take a cautious approach to integrating unmanned aircraft into the NAS by integrating small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAV) before large unmanned aircraft.
The aim of this research is twofold: To investigate requirements for large unmanned cargo aircraft (LUCA) airline operations and to evaluate the anticipated needs of the FAA to support integration of LUCA airline flights into NAS. Stakeholders must weigh the costs of transportation with the time and make a decision how they will ship their cargo. If the air cargo costs can be reduced by 30-40% then it will drive the LUCA market to expand. The traditional freight industry made up of airplanes, trucks, trains, and ships is ripe for disruption. The transportation costs for $USD / Ton KM has a potential to be less than truck transport which would make a LUCA operator quite profitable.
This paper is written and presented by Mark Patrick Collins, Indiana State University Associate Professor, Unmanned Systems. Indiana State University is member of Platform Unmanned Cargo Aircraft.
This article is being written in advance of a dissertation the author is completing. The contents of which are a summary of literature and previous research the author has completed. On Oct. 5, 2018, President Trump signed into law the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-254), which reauthorizes funding for the FAA through Sept. 30, 2023. This is the first long-term FAA reauthorization since 2012 that has been signed into law. The new reauthorization takes significant steps forward in the continuing integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, into the National Airspace System (NAS) (Roberson, 2018).
Just like the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 mandated the integration of UAS in the NAS, the FAA Modernization of 2018 takes it one step further by mandating that the FAA start to authorize drone deliveries in the NAS. Since this time, we have seen two commercial cargo drone carriers receive FAA 14 CFR Part 135 Air Carrier and Operator certification for small < 55 lbs unmanned cargo aircraft (sUCA). Wing a subsidiary of Alphabet and United Parcel Service (UPS) are now operating under Part 135 small cargo drones in uncontrolled Class G airspace under 55 lbs below 400 above ground level (AGL) to delivery small parcels for the final delivery mile. This is just a small incremental step towards integrating larger unmanned cargo aircraft in altitudes where manned aircraft operate.