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From the Editor's Desk
Standards and Marketplace Expansion

I wish I could say we planned this issue of SN on the next wave of aircraft standardization to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the world’s first powered, heavier-than-air flight. But it is only a happy coincidence that the cover of this magazine features a high-tech descendant of the biplane that the Wright brothers successfully flew in December 1903, at Kitty Hawk, N.C. What was intentional this month was to provide a thorough introduction to the newest addition to ASTM International’s family of technical committees, F38 on Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems.

ASTM and another portion of the aviation community have been here before. One year ago, in the December 2002 issue of SN, we introduced you to then-new Committee F37 on Light-Sport Aircraft. Before this committee was formed to develop consensus standards, manufacturers saw that the prospects for both developing their product and expanding their market niche were restricted. In their effort to protect the flying public, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had promulgated regulations for light-sport aircraft and their pilots that were burdensome. Recognizing this, the FAA opened up the possibility of regulation enhanced by market-driven consensus standards, and Committee F37 was born.

In new Committee F38 on Unmanned Air Vehicle Systems, we see much the same story playing out. Unmanned air vehicles, or UAVs, are pilotless aircraft that can be outfitted with instruments to do any number of military, civil, and even scientific chores that are too dangerous or mundane for pilots.

The key to the story of standardization for UAVs is another acronym — NAS, or national airspace. Without regular access to it, unmanned air vehicles are kept to highly specialized military missions and other very limited uses. And since unmanned air vehicles are pilotless and untested in wide use, giving UAVs access to the NAS is a minefield of public safety concerns. Imagine, for example, how an unmanned vehicle will comply with the “see and avoid” concept in right-of-way rules.

With access to the NAS, on the other hand, an industry currently lagging in terms of market access would be able to expand exponentially. And here’s where regulation enhanced by standardization comes in. Conundrums like the “see and avoid” issue and airworthiness concerns are certainly manageable through the consensus process, and the technology enhancements and marketplace clout that come with high-quality standards will be a boon to the UAV industry.

In the year since its formation, the light-sport aircraft committee has balloted and approved eight consensus standards and has nearly 20 in various stages of development. We wish new Committee F38 similar success as it opens up new horizons for the unmanned air vehicle industry.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

Copyright 2003, ASTM