FAA seeks test sites for unmanned aircraft systems

February 19, 2013

The FAA is requesting proposals from prospective developers of six sites for testing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as the agency studies how to integrate the pilotless vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

The expanding role of UAS marks “a major next step in aviation innovation,” the FAA said, soliciting proposals from state and local governments, universities, and other entities to develop the test ranges, as directed last year by Congress. The six sites will be selected later this year.

Research at the sites will help identify the certification and navigation requirements for UAS before they are allowed to take their place alongside manned aircraft in the National Airspace System.

Not every test site will possess all the attributes needed for gathering the data needed about UAS, the FAA said. Combined, however, they should provide “the appropriate environment and opportunities” to measure how UAS interact with diverse geographic, climatic, and ground infrastructure conditions, as well as population densities.

AOPA is a member of the FAA aviation rulemaking committee established to study issues raised by the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System. The association has long maintained that UAS should be brought into the system only when their ability to sense and avoid other aircraft assures a seamless integration.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood emphasized the need for the program to produce a clear risk assessment.

“Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world's largest aviation system,” he said in the announcement of request for test site proposals. “This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies.”

Protecting privacy

The FAA also sought public input on privacy standards for the testing program, noting that test-site operators would have to ensure their adherence to “widely accepted” privacy principles when gathering data.

Before the 60-day comment period on the test site proposal expires, the FAA will host an “online listening session” on its proposed approach to privacy, the agency said in a Feb. 14 news release.

The FAA’s announcement said UAS present “economic opportunities” for communities selected for the testing program, and for the aerospace industry.

Members may submit comments on the FAA’s privacy approach, citing Docket No: F AA-2013-0061, online or by mail to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room Wl2-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
Please share your comments with AOPA.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.