Is U Class Airspace for UAS the Answer?

We met University of Michigan’s Ella Atkins, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering, at the AUVSI conference back in May 2014. She gave us her article on UAS safety to read, and was very engaging.

Recently as I was working to ready our firm to exhibit at the Ohio UAS Conference in Dayton August 26-28, I came across Professor Atkin’s article on my desk, Atkins, E. M., “Autonomy as an Enabler of Economically Viable, Beyond-Line-of-Sight, Low-Altitude UAS Applications with Acceptable Risk,” AUVSI North American Conference, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL, May 2014,and thought I would share the paper with those who have an interest in UAS and aviation in general.

Following is an abstract of Professor Atkin’s article. For the full paper, please email Professor Atkins directly at


This paper describes a practical vision for low-altitude UAS operations based on a Class G airspace subdivision that will support safe near-term UAS deployment without impact to existing manned aircraft operations. An agriculture reference mission is defined as a case study for which low-altitude UAS offer the landowner tangible benefit without introducing unacceptable risk. A Class U airspace designation is proposed for surface to 500 feet above ground level below existing Class G airspace. Reasonable operational requirements for Class U are shown to significantly depend on overflown property ownership and type. A candidate sub classification of Class U airspace based on property ownership
(private or public) and type (rural, suburban, and urban) is proposed along with candidate requirements for the vehicle, its safety features, and its operator(s). Autonomous geofencing is proposed as a means to ensure low-altitude UAS do not exit their designated Class U operating area. A certified geofencing capability can ensure safe flight in rural areas without the need to wait for system-wide detect-and-avoid so long as manned aircraft remain clear of the occupied Class U region. A deterministic and simple geofencing (or electronic leashing) algorithm is presented. Geofencing represents autonomy in that it guarantees operating boundaries are respected even if operator inputs must be overridden. Such algorithms are available today and can ultimately be safety-certified to provide the backbone autonomy necessary to ensure UAS will not leave their designated operating area despite flight operations beyond line of sight. The paper concludes with a discussion of additional technologies needed to achieve adequate safety and privacy management for suburban and urban operations.

For information on Professor Atkins’ work on UAS, visit


Add a Comment