Decision support for the safe design and operation of unmanned aircraft systems

Clothier, Reece Alexander (2012) Decision support for the safe design and operation of unmanned aircraft systems. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) describe a diverse range of aircraft that are operated without a human pilot on-board. Unmanned aircraft range from small rotorcraft, which can fit in the palm of your hand, through to fixed wing aircraft comparable in size to that of a commercial passenger jet. The absence of a pilot on-board allows these aircraft to be developed with unique performance capabilities facilitating a wide range of applications in surveillance, environmental management, agriculture, defence, and search and rescue. However, regulations relating to the safe design and operation of UAS first need to be developed before the many potential benefits from these applications can be realised.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a Risk Management Process (RMP) should support all civil aviation policy and rulemaking activities (ICAO 2009). The RMP is described in International standard, ISO 31000:2009 (ISO, 2009a). This standard is intentionally generic and high-level, providing limited guidance on how it can be effectively applied to complex socio-technical decision problems such as the development of regulations for UAS. Through the application of principles and tools drawn from systems philosophy and systems engineering, this thesis explores how the RMP can be effectively applied to support the development of safety regulations for UAS.

A sound systems-theoretic foundation for the RMP is presented in this thesis. Using the case-study scenario of a UAS operation over an inhabited area and through the novel application of principles drawn from general systems modelling philosophy, a consolidated framework of the definitions of the concepts of: safe, risk and hazard is made. The framework is novel in that it facilitates the representation of broader subjective factors in an assessment of the safety of a system; describes the issues associated with the specification of a system-boundary; makes explicit the hierarchical nature of the relationship between the concepts and the subsequent constraints that exist between them; and can be evaluated using a range of analytic or deliberative modelling techniques.

Following the general sequence of the RMP, the thesis explores the issues associated with the quantified specification of safety criteria for UAS. A novel risk analysis tool is presented. In contrast to existing risk tools, the analysis tool presented in this thesis quantifiably characterises both the societal and individual risk of UAS operations as a function of the flight path of the aircraft. A novel structuring of the risk evaluation and risk treatment decision processes is then proposed. The structuring is achieved through the application of the Decision Support Problem Technique; a modelling approach that has been previously used to effectively model complex engineering design processes and to support decision-making in relation to airspace design.

The final contribution made by this thesis is in the development of an airworthiness regulatory framework for civil UAS. A novel "airworthiness certification matrix" is proposed as a basis for the definition of UAS "Part 21" regulations. The outcome airworthiness certification matrix provides a flexible, systematic and justifiable method for promulgating airworthiness regulations for UAS. In addition, an approach for deriving "Part 1309" regulations for UAS is presented. In contrast to existing approaches, the approach presented in this thesis facilitates a traceable and objective tailoring of system-level reliability requirements across the diverse range of UAS operations.

The significance of the research contained in this thesis is clearly demonstrated by its practical real world outcomes. Industry regulatory development groups and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority have endorsed the proposed airworthiness certification matrix. The risk models have also been used to support research undertaken by the Australian Department of Defence. Ultimately, it is hoped that the outcomes from this research will play a significant part in the shaping of regulations for civil UAS, here in Australia and around the world.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 51048
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Campbell, Duncan & Fulton, Neale
Keywords: safety, risk, decision, support, theory, systems, philosophy, UAS, UAV, unmanned, aircraft, systems, regulation
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 25 Jun 2012 03:47
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2017 14:43

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