Home VT researchers play role in FAA drone guidelines protecting people on the ground

VT researchers play role in FAA drone guidelines protecting people on the ground

Crystal Graham
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The Federal Aviation Administration updated compliance for drones flying over people on April 5, with guidance from engineers at Virginia Tech.

The FAA published a notice of availability in the federal register, establishing the updated means of compliance established by the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.

“All these changes and modifications to the means of compliance allow for a more robust test method which can assess a wider range of potential aircraft and include lessons learned since establishing the first means of compliance,” said Robert Briggs, chief engineer with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.

Parachutes are a potential method of mitigating the risk to people on the ground, according to researchers.

“With the addition of parachutes, the new means of compliance includes the ability to consider a parachute recovery system as a tool to reduce injury, greatly increasing the likelihood that an aircraft equipped with a parachute will pass,” said Briggs.

To be utilized in the means of compliance, parachutes must be tested according to ASTM International’s standard specification for small unmanned aircraft system parachutes.

The drone industry was provided a pathway for flying over people with the FAA’s establishment of the rule in 2021, which allows for flights over people, but only after a drone is tested to show it is in compliance.

The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership established the first means of compliance for operations over people to be accepted by the FAA, and soon after, the first drone passed the tests.

These testing methods were developed in partnership with the Virginia Tech Center for Injury Biomechanics to ensure aircraft do not exceed comparative injury limits and do not contain rotating parts capable of lacerating human skin.

They provided an understanding of what’s required to operate over people and the means of compliance provided a firm process to meet those requirements.

“We’re honored to be part of what the FAA is doing to ensure drones can be safely operated over people,” said Tombo Jones, Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership director. “Years of research has led us to this point, and this step forward opens the aperture for the number of drones that may be able to fly over people.”

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.