FAA to create test sites for unmanned aircraft

Pilots urged to provide input on site selection

March 8, 2012

In a continued effort to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System, the FAA is seeking input on the location of six test sites for the vehicles.

The test sites would allow the agency to “designate airspace for integrated manned and unmanned flight operations in the national airspace system; develop certification standards and air traffic requirements for unmanned flight operations at test ranges; coordinate with and leverage the resources of the NASA and the Department of Defense; address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems; ensure that the program is coordinated with the Next Generation Air Transportation System; and ensure the safety of unmanned aircraft systems and related navigation procedures before they are integrated into the national airspace system.”

Pilots are encouraged to comment on the geographic and climate factors that should be considered when selecting a site, whether the sites should be managed by public or private entities, what research activities would take place at the facilities, and more. Comments will be accepted starting March 9 when the notice is published in the Federal Register. Public comments will be accepted until May 8.

The agency is required to establish the test sites by the National Defense Authorization Act and the long-term FAA funding bill that was signed into law in February. Neither of the measures provided any funding for the sites.

While the FAA is accepting comments on test site locations and requirements, the agency will continue to work with the industry and is anticipating a proposed rule on small UAS. The agency also has established an aviation rulemaking committee to study UAS integration issues. AOPA is a member of the aviation rulemaking committee, representing members’ interests to ensure airspace access and safety. AOPA has long maintained that UAS need to be able to integrate seamlessly into the National Airspace System by having the capability to “sense and avoid” other aircraft.