Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace System

While not specifically stated, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 did more than unify authority and codify regulations, as did the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. Viewed in total, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 gave regulators a toolbox for integrating revolutionary aviation technology into the NAS. Much of today’s aviation regulatory landscape was painted by the act, which may be characterized as the regulatory equivalent of the jet engine. For the first time – leveraging the long term planning and technical coordination elements of the Federal Aviation Act – regulators were ahead of the airplane.44 Following the act, regulators had the flexibility, authority, and mandate to plan for the advancement of aviation.

C. National Airspace System: The Rise and Fall of Latency

To understand how the UAS fits into the modern ATC system, it is critical to understand the history of the NAS regulation and ATC development, and the inherent system latency which may be corrected by UAS technology. Although the adage that law lags science often may be true, the latency between commercial jet emergence and regulatory response was nominal. The newly modernized NAS system of the early sixties used radar, computers, radio communications, and air traffic controllers to choreograph en route operations. For terminal airspace operations, the FAA started developing an automated radar traffic control system.45

By 1970, the FAA had centralized air traffic control across air traffic facilities. This helped to monitor and restrict flights moving from one air route traffic control center to another. The centralized concept correlated system wide air traffic and weather data, identified potential conflicts and bottlenecks, and suggested a bank of solutions. In addition to its tracking and troubleshooting functions, this facility also served as the central reservation point for airport arrival slots and altitude reservations.46 This centralization of control offers solutions for future


44 Pilots emphasize staying ahead of the airplane in all phases of flight. When a pilot is ahead of the airplane, it is easy to predict what the airplane will do in response to any control input or external influence. -DC
45 See FAA Website, supra note 9.
46 Id.