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Pilot’s Willingness to Operate in Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Airspace

PI Lakshmi Vempati

PI Scott Winter

The interest in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) use for private, civil, and commercial purposes such as package delivery, inspection, surveillance, and passenger and cargo transport has gained considerable momentum. As UAS infiltrate the National Airspace System (NAS), there is a need to not only develop viable, safe, and secure solutions for the co-existence of manned and unmanned aircraft, but also determine public acceptance and pilot’s willingness to operate an aircraft in such an integrated environment. Currently there is little or no research on pilot’s perceptions on their willingness to operate an aircraft in UAS integrated airspace and airports.

The purpose of this study was to determine what effect the type of UAS integration, the type of UAS operations, and the airspace classification will have on pilot’s perspectives and willingness to operate an aircraft in UAS integrated airspace and airport environment. This study surveyed the eligible pilot population in hypothetical scenarios using convenience sampling to measure their willingness to operate an aircraft in UAS integrated airspace and airports using the Willingness to Pilot an Aircraft Scale, which has been shown to be valid and reliable by Rice, Winter, Capps, Trombley, Robbins, and Milner (2020). A mixed factorial design was used to study the interaction effects between the independent variables and the effects on the dependent variable, i.e., willingness to pilot an aircraft.

The results of the mixed analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated a significant interaction between type of UAS integration and airspace classification. Overall willingness decreased with airspace and differences in willingness to pilot an aircraft were based on segregated and integrated operations. The average pilot’s willingness to pilot an aircraft score differed from the highest score being for Class B, decreasing with decreasing airspace classes, with the lowest being for Class G.

Analysis of pilot perspectives collected through open ended questions using text-mining techniques showed agreement with mixed ANOVA analysis that the primary factor in the pilot’s perception was airspace. Key concerns voiced by the pilots were situation awareness, risk and safety of operations, aircraft certification and airworthiness, and operator experience and regulatory conformance. The most positive sentiment was observed among pilots presented with the hypothetical scenario of fully autonomous UAS operations in a segregated environment. Findings from the study could aid regulators in developing better policies, procedures, integration solutions, improved training, and knowledge sharing.

Research Dates

to 01/27/2020


  • Scott Richard Winter
    School of Graduate Studies (SGS)
    Ph.D., Purdue University-Main Campus
    M.S., B.S., Minnesota State University-Mankato

Tags: Ph.D. in Aviation Program dissertation UAS Unmanned aircraft systems pilot perspectives willingness to pilot an aircraft

Categories: Graduate