August 1-3 2023, Baltimore, MD

Reported by Vijay Somandepalli, MassRobotics UAS/AAM Director

This year’s FAA UAS symposium was held at the Baltimore Convention Center August 1-3, 2023, and marked the return of the wholly in-person FAA symposium after the COVID-19 pandemic.  This year, the FAA also brought together the AAM community with the UAS community at the same event, with the UAS symposium taking center stage for the first half, and the AAM Summit the latter half. The event was organized by the FAA with help from AUVSI, with several industry sponsors providing support.

The packed plenary panel discussion on the second day of the FAA UAS Symposium.

Some Insights from the UAS Symposium:

FAA is working towards publishing the ‘Part 108’ Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) by August 2024. This NPRM is going to be based on the BVLOS ARC recommendations, and will likely include rulemaking related to BVLOS ops, small package delivery, and operations of UAS larger than 55 lbs. The FAA reiterated the use of exemptions (‘44807s’) as a means to enable UAS operations that are not covered by the existing Part 107 rules or waivers currently. 

The FAA also made a point about how they have streamlined several of their own internal processes for speeding up granting new Part 107 waivers and 44807 exemptions to enable expanded operations with UAS. One of our local companies, Guardian Ag, was granted the first exemption for commercial agricultural spraying operations with a large (> 55lbs) multirotor UAS in June this year, and Pyka, a California-based company was granted a similar approval for a large fixed-wing UAS in August due to the new processes that the FAA has put in place. Similarly, the FAA is granting BVLOS waivers faster now for operations that are being conducted very close (< 50 ft separation) to buildings, bridges, and other industrial infrastructure. 

These updates from the FAA are a welcome positive change since the UAS industry has been pointing out to the FAA how some of the agricultural operations and infrastructure monitoring and inspection operations using drones pose very little additional risk to other aircraft, and can reduce loss of life and property, improve yields and reduce downtime for the end users of these technologies. UAS industry representatives were also quick to point out to the FAA that there was also very little progress in other areas such as type certification of UAS. The FAA has not issued any new Type Certificates (TC) for small UAS since September 2022 when the first one (and only one to-date) was issued to Matternet.

Representatives from various industry organizations and the FAA in a panel discussion about the UAS industry’s perspective on how the FAA is enabling or not enabling the UAS industry.

Some insights from the AAM Summit:

This was the first time the FAA has interacted with the broad AAM community, and there was palpable anticipation about what the FAA would publicly state related to the AAM industry.  Just prior to the AAM Summit, in July 2023, the FAA released their Advanced Air Mobility Implementation Plan called Innovate28 with a stated goal of enabling large scale commercial operations in conjunction with the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The FAA publicly stated that there are, currently, at least 18 AAM vehicles in the Type Certification process, and it is the FAA’s intention to issue the first Type Certificate (TC) for AAM vehicles by the end of 2024/early 2025. They were also quick to point out that issuing the first TC does not mean that large scale commercial operations can be started right away, and the goal is to have ‘full integration & commercial operations’ for AAM by 2028 per the Innovate28 timeline.

Overall, the event was well attended – it was the biggest crowd since the FAA started hosting the symposium back in 2016. Massachusetts and New England were also well represented at the event with the local FAA leadership and local industry, both UAS and AAM, making their presence felt. It was great to see so many and such a diverse group of people from various local organizations at the event. New England and Massachusetts really are the center of the innovation universe!

Representatives from Raytheon, Climavision, MassDOT, MassRobotics, Matrixspace, Censys Technologies and Crgo at the ’Massachusetts’ lunch table at the FAA UAS Symposium. Not present in this photo, but other local organizations present at the event were Rotor, Wingtra, Merlin Labs, Maglev Aero, Commaris, MITRE, FAA.

MassRobotics was represented by Vijay Somandepalli, UAS/AAM Director.  For a more in-depth discussion of the FAA UAS Symposium and the AAM Summit, please be sure to attend the next DROWG meeting on August 29th at 4:30pm at MassRobotics or email us for the virtual link!