UAS Operational Assessment: Visual Compliance

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Authors: Alex Konkel, Ph.D.
Todd Truitt, PhD.
Carolina Zingale, PhD.

Truitt, T. R., Zingale, C. M., & Konkel, A. (2016). UAS Operational Assessment: Visual compliance - Human-in-the-loop simulation to assess how UAS integration in Class C airspace will affect Air Traffic Control Specialists (DOT/FAA/TC-16/11). Atlantic City International Airport, NJ: Federal Aviation Administration William J. Hughes Technical Center.


This report documents issues associated with the inability of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to comply with visual compliance rules (14 CFR Part 91) in Class C airspace. The visual compliance limitations of UAS increase aircraft spacing requirements and restrict UAS pilots and Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCS) from conducting operations (a) that help ATCS manage their workload and (b) that improve airspace efficiency. The authors conducted high-fidelity, human-in-the-loop simulations to examine how UAS integration in Class C airspace affected ATCS subjective ratings of workload and performance. The authors also collected objective measures of communications, airspace efficiency, and safety. The results indicated that UAS integration tended to increase ATCS workload ratings and to decrease their self-rated performance. Radio communications also became shorter and more frequent when UAS were present. UAS integration tended to reduce airspace efficiency, but it did not affect safety. The authors expect that training and experience with UAS operations will mitigate effects associated with ATCS workload and self-rated performance. However, UAS integration may reduce efficiency in congested airspace until UAS implement technological or procedural solutions that allow them to overcome the limitations associated with visual compliance. The authors provide recommendations for continued UAS research that will inform the development of FAA standards and procedures for the safe and efficient integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.