Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, located in Daytona Beach, is one of the nation’s leading aerospace educational institutions. In the fall of 2011, it launched an Unmanned Aircraft Systems degree program.
We asked Ted Beneigh, professor of aeronautical science, about the growing civilian drone industry.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of operating civilian drones?
A: The majority of the projected remotely piloted aircraft will be flying within line-of-sight of the pilot, most of the time below 400 feet above the ground, and will have minimal effect on manned aviation. They also will not require an airport. Ones that fly higher and faster will operate at speeds and altitude common to manned aircraft. They will be flown in a similar fashion, as well, by the pilot in the control station.
A challenge is to ensure the sense-and-detect systems on the (drones) provide adequate separation from manned aircraft. There are several technologies that accomplish this; the challenge is how to most effectively utilize these technologies.
Q: What demands do you anticipate in terms of the need for operators and the training they will require?
A: Currently, the FAA requires the pilots of (drones) to be certified and current in manned aircraft. They must also receive training in the (drone) they will be flying. The sensor operators do not need manned aircraft certificates; just training in the environment the (drone) will be flying and the equipment itself.
Q: What are some of the requirements — beyond just equipment — to operate drones commercially?
A: At this time, the FAA requires the pilots to be certified in manned aircraft. In the future, the FAA may not deem that necessary; they may create a (drone) pilot certificate. Until the new regulations come out, that question cannot adequately be answered.