Whether you’re dealing with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) or a RPIC (Remote Pilot In Command), it’s important to know what the dozens of acronyms in U.S. aerospace mean. Here’s a rundown of the most common ones you’ll come across.
AAO: Acronym for “Authorized Area of Operation”
A volume of airspace that will require aircraft flying specific mission profiles, such as BVLOS, to meet minimum standards established by the FAA related to its CNS capability and overall performance. An AAO may be established in areas of dense UAS traffic or other circumstances that increase the overall risk to flight operations.
AGL: Acronym for “Above Ground Level”
One of two measures commonly used in aviation for altitude: the height of the aircraft above the local terrain. Contrast with “MSL.”
ATC: Acronym for “Air Traffic Control”
A system established by FAA to maintain separation between aircraft operating in the NAS and to make efficient use of airspace. The backbone of this system are the human controllers in airport control towers and regional centers that monitor the position of aircraft using radar and communicate with their pilots using radio. With certain, rare exceptions, ATC interacts exclusively with crewed air traffic.
BVLOS: Acronym for “Beyond Visual Line of Sight”
UAS flight operations conducted at a distance where it is no longer possible for the remote pilot to see the aircraft and therefore to sense and avoid other air traffic. Routine and safe BVLOS operations depend on some combination of separation maintained by UTM and onboard CNS capabilities.
CNS: Acronym for “Communications, Navigation and Surveillance”
A suite of sensors and radio gear that will provide UAS with a limited capability to detect and avoid other air traffic without input from its pilot. These sensors may be visual, acoustic, or radar-based, or may rely on receiving radio transmissions from the other aircraft, such as a transponder or RID transmitter.
CTAF: Acronym for “Common Traffic Advisory Frequency”
A dedicated radio frequency, typically at 122.9 MHz, established for airports that lack a control tower. It allows pilots to coordinate and deconflict their operations through direct communication with each other, rather than relying on a ground-based controller.
ConOps: Contraction for “Concept of Operations”
A document that outlines the characteristics of a proposed system, from the perspective of that system’s end user. Generally, a ConOps will describe a series of capabilities that will allow the end user to achieve a specified goal or outcome.
FAA: Acronym for “Federal Aviation Administration”
An agency within the United States Department of Transportation, the FAA has authority over all aircraft—defined as “a device used or intended to be used for flight in the air”—within the NAS. This extends to both crewed and uncrewed aircraft. The FAA was established August 23, 1958.
FIMS: Acronym for “Flight Information Management System”
A notional component of the FAA’s proposed UTM system, FIMS would serve as a gateway between the agency and other participants in the network. Like a firewall, it would protect confidential information held by the FAA from public exposure and provide a means for the agency to transmit such information to appropriate authorities, when needed. It would also serve as a channel to publish airspace restrictions and other relevant data and to gather information about current and past UAS operations.
IFR: Acronym for “Instrument Flight Rules”
An integrated set of procedures, capabilities and technology that allows crewed aircraft to operate when visibility is limited by weather to less than three statute miles or it is impossible to remain clear of clouds. Pilots rely on aircraft instruments and guidance from ATC to maintain controlled flight and traffic separation. Contrast with “VFR.”
IPP: Acronym for “Integration Pilot Program”
Concluded on October 25, 2020, the IPP was established to test and evaluate the integration of commercial and public sUAS into the NAS. The program had four main goals: first, to find a balance between local and national interests regarding UAS integration; second, to improve FAA communication with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; third, to assess risks to privacy and security; and, fourth, to accelerate the approval of operations that require special authorizations.
LAANC: Acronym for “Low-Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability,” pronounced “lance”
A system established by the FAA in 2018 to allow UAS operations in controlled airspace. A series of UAS facility maps have been created for hundreds of controlled airports nationwide, specifying where, and to what altitude, UAS are able to fly without requiring further safety analysis by the FAA. Authorization is required prior to takeoff and is most often acquired in near real-time using a smart phone app developed by a private company.
MSL: Acronym for “Mean Sea Level”
One of two measures commonly used in aviation for altitude: the height of the aircraft above sea level, regardless of the local terrain. Contrast with “AGL.”
NAS: Acronym for “National Airspace System”
A system developed to ensure the safe and efficient use of the airspace above the United States. It includes six different classifications of airspace (A, B, C, D, E and G), as well as blocks defined as prohibited, restricted, and reserved for military operations, among others. It also includes the personnel, technology, and information required to maintain and operate the system.
Within the context of UTM, an operator is an entity—either an individual or an organization—that operates one or more UAS in the NAS as well as crewed aviators who participate in UTM to enhance safety and situational awareness. An individual RPIC may also be an operator within the UTM network.
That portion of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) that falls within Title 14, commonly referred to as the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Specifically, Part 107 regulates the commercial use of UAS in the United States.
PIREP: Acronym for “Pilot Report”
A report made by crewed aircraft pilots about the weather or other circumstances relevant for flight operations. These are typically made by radio to ATC, which will then share the report with the broader aviation community via the FAA’s online information services. Compare with “UREP.”
RID: Acronym for “Remote Identification,” also “Remote ID”
A system proposed by the FAA that would equip each UAS with a radio transmitter, similar in function to the transponders carried by crewed aircraft, that would, at a minimum, send out a unique alphanumeric code similar to a car’s license plate. This signal could be read by any common smart device, although only proper authorities would have the ability to query the FAA via USS to obtain the identity and personal information of the pilot. There is currently an ongoing debate between the FAA and the UAS industry as to the type of technology that should be used to implement RID.
RPIC: Acronym for “Remote Pilot In Command”
A person holding a current certificate under 14 CFR Part 107, permitting them to conduct commercial UAS operations within the NAS. Derived from Pilot In Command (PIC), the designation for a crewed aviator.
SDSP: Acronym for “Supplemental Data Service Provider”
SDSPs are participants within the UTM network that provide information which, although useful to enhance safety or efficiency, is not required to conduct safe flight operations. An SDSP may provide services directly to UAS operators, or to USS.
sUAS: Acronym for “Small Uncrewed Aircraft System,” also “Small Unmanned Aircraft System”
FAA designation for a UAS (see which) that weighs less than 55 pounds and can therefore be operated under 14 CFR Part 107 without a waiver.
TFR: Acronym for “Temporary Flight Restriction”
A prohibition issued by the FAA that precludes the operation of both crewed and uncrewed aircraft within a specified block of airspace for a set time. TFRs are commonly issued for wildfires and other national disasters, as well as major league sporting events, presidential and vice-presidential travel, space launches, air shows, and other events where non-participating aircraft could pose a threat. Compare with “UVR.”
UAM: Acronym for “Urban Air Mobility”
An aviation transportation system that will rely on a highly automated flight control and traffic management, using
short-range vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that broadly resemble multirotor sUAS to transport passengers and cargo in the urban environment.
UAS: Acronym for “Uncrewed Aircraft System,” also “Unmanned Aircraft System”
An aircraft flown remotely or autonomously, without the possibility of a human pilot on board, as well as its supporting components, such as a ground control station. Commonly known as a “drone.”
UREP: Acronym for “Unmanned Aircraft Report”
Within the proposed UTM network, UREPs will be the equivalent of the PIREPs filed by crewed aviators, providing information about weather or other circumstances relevant to flight operations.
USS: Acronym for “UAS Service Supplier”
As defined by the UTM ConOps 2.0, a USS is a private, for-profit corporation that will serve as an interface between the FAA and UAS operators. Like cellular telephone carriers, multiple USS will be available for operators to choose from, each with different subscription models and features, but all sharing the same basic function: connecting operators to the network.
UTM: Acronym for “UAS Traffic Management”
A proposed system in development by the FAA through a partnership with other aviation- and standards-related organizations, most recently codified in a document entitled “UAS ConOps 2.0”. The goal of UTM is to establish a highly automated, network-based system that would effectively serve as a form of air traffic control for UAS operating below 400 feet AGL. It would allow for a host of mission types long sought by the industry, including routine BVLOS flights.
UVR: Acronym for “UAS Volume Restriction”
A prohibition issued by the FAA within the UTM network that would preclude the use of non-participating UAS within a designated airspace volume for a set time. As currently conceived, UVRs would be issued for incidents where public safety agencies are deploying UAS to manage an emergency. UVRs would be issued via FIMS. Compare with “TFR.”
VFR: Acronym for “Visual Flight Rules”
In crewed aviation, a set of standards where pilots navigate and avoid other air traffic primarily through their ability to see the surrounding airspace and environment. For visual flight rules to be in effect, the minimum visibility must be at least 3 statute miles and the aircraft must maintain separation from clouds by at least 500 feet vertically and 2,000 feet horizontally. These are the same weather minimums required for UAS operations under 14 CFR Part 107.
VLOS: Acronym for “Visual Line of Sight”
A mode of UAS operation where the air crew maintains the aircraft within plain sight throughout the mission. This is required for the pilot to be able to detect and avoid other air traffic. Under 14 CFR Part 107, all UAS operations must be conducted within VLOS, except by waiver requiring stringent safety protocols.
BY PATRICK SHERMAN