Safe integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into airspace generally occupied by manned aircraft and other aviation stakeholders is a pressing global challenge. In the United States, efforts are being made to integrate small and large UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS). Whereas regulations for the civil operation of small UAS (25 kg and lighter) have already been adopted, those for larger unmanned systems are still being crafted. Thus, a two-part mixed methods study was conducted to examine three pivotal issues in the safe operation of large UAS: (1) What kind of visual observer skills are needed to execute safe UAS operations; (2) Should visual observers involved in UAS operations receive formal training; and (3) Should visual observers be required to pass a certification exam? In the first phase, subject matter experts identified various vigilance, trajectory estimation and communication skills that were vital to performing visual observer duties successfully and elaborated on their training regimens. In the second phase, survey participants were approximately evenly split on the need for formal classroom/online and hands-on visual observer training. Furthermore, participants generally favored visual observers having to pass a classroom/online certification exam, whereas they were against a practical (hands-on) exam.
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