Considerations for a roadmap for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in South African airspace

Ingham, L. A. (2008-12)

Thesis (PhD (Electrical and Electronic Engioneering))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology is classified as being disruptive since it has the potential to radically change the utilization of airspace. Most unmanned vehicles are aimed at military applications, yet civilian applications of unmanned aerial vehicle technology could benefit South Africa considerably. At present, the lack of UAV regulations and standards precludes UAVs from being certified to operate on a file and fly basis in un-segregated civilian airspace. The inability for UAVs to be certified because of a lack of standards creates a “chicken and egg” – “stale mate” situation. If principles such as “equivalence”, initially proposed by Eurocontrol are adopted in South Africa, it then follows that equivalent standards used by manned aircraft could be used by UAVs. UAVs must therefore be tested and evaluated in order to prove compliance with equivalent existing manned aircraft regulations in the foreseeable future until UAV regulations and standards become available. It has been suggested that specific UAV missions such as maritime patrol, border control, search & rescue, and cargo transport could fulfil current requirements. Design considerations and possible concepts of UAV operations, maintenance and training that will enable UAVs to satisfy the immediate South African strategic requirements whilst complying with existing airspace and airworthiness regulations have been proposed in this document while further UAV specific standards and regulations are being developed. UAV testing is an essential part of proving the enabling technology, and part of the process of gaining acceptance into wider airspace. Fortunately, flight test methods and procedures applicable to manned aircraft are directly applicable to UAVs, while systems unique to UAVs can be adapted from existing procedures applied to missiles and military UAVs. Once UAVs are developed and tested, it will be necessary to start full scale operations. Some considerations will be necessary during mission planning. Air traffic management regulations however will prohibit some UAVs from operating in all airspace until enabling technology is developed and tested, while some existing UAVs will never be permitted to “file and fly”. This study also analyses existing airspace and UAV platforms in order to identify the airspace and platforms that will have the most chance of being successfully permitted to “file and fly” in civil airspace. For South Africa to advance as a UAV operating and manufacturing nation, it is therefore essential to compile a roadmap that will guide the process of developing, certifying and operating UAVs. The roadmap must include an interim process, as well as stating the end objective, which is “file and fly”. This South African UAV Roadmap proposal is based on international research that uses documentation and lessons learned from elsewhere to guide the process for creating UAV regulations and standards, while allowing existing UAV operations to expand into the existing airspace in order for further UAV research to take place. This roadmap proposal is the conclusion of a 3 year study, and references to the applicable literature are made throughout the document.

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