A growing number of nations have been successfully, but slowly, pushing both the technological and regulatory boundaries of advanced UAS operations.  These national pilot programs have taken the first steps towards beyond visual line of sight operations, package delivery and flight over people.  However, as Earl Lawrence confirmed at the AUVSI/FAA symposium the other day, the key to turning these complex operations into routine operations is a certificated unmanned aircraft.

Over the years, the FAA has entered into a wide range of bilateral and multilateral agreements with other nations that establish standards for recognizing each other’s type certificates and production certificates.  These agreements do not, however, apply to unmanned aircraft.  Given that the majority of UAS are manufactured overseas, international agreement on these issues are critical to avoid unnecessary roadblocks on the road to full UAS integration.

Fortunately, the FAA has been working to lay the framework for these future reciprocal agreements.  Yesterday, the FAA and the Switzerland Federal Office of Civil Aviation announced that they “had reached an agreement on how to harmonize domestic and international safety standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).”

According to the announcement, the FAA and the Innovation and Digitalization Unit of Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) will:

Collaborate under a Declaration of Intent (DOI) on UAS issues of mutual interest and benefit. The primary objectives of the DOI are to provide opportunities to engage in research and development; exchange ideas, personnel, and information; provide coordination with other government entities and stakeholders; and to collaborate on other initiatives and projects determined to be of mutual interest and benefit in relation to UAS operations.

On announcing the agreement, Jay Merkle noted that:

UAS activities are now accepted worldwide as a vital sector of aviation.  This U.S./Swiss agreement continues the move forward of the safe, efficient, and internationally harmonized integration of these vehicles into the world’s airspace.

This agreement will undoubtably be followed by many others.  Given that the FAA is already deeply involved in several critical UAS rulemakings as well as working on the certification basis for a number of large, sophisticated unmanned aircraft, agreements such as this cannot come too quickly.