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Unmanned aircraft tests must ‘do no harm’

AOPA supports the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) but reminds the FAA that the creation of test sites for them must do no harm to other airspace users, and should tap the expertise of a rulemaking committee set up to aid the integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System, the association said in a regulatory filing.

The FAA also should share with stakeholders details of both the goals and results of its UAS testing, AOPA said May 4 in formal comments on the agency proposal to create six test sites under a mandate from Congress.

“It is critical that the establishment of these UAS test sites is implemented without the creation of additional segregated or restricted airspace, and there are no impacts to existing airspace users,” wrote Heidi Williams, AOPA vice president of airspace and modernization.

The FAA is expected to decide how it will move forward on the test sites by December 2012.

In March, AOPA encouraged pilots to respond to the FAA’s request for comments from airspace users and others on geographic, climatic, and management issues concerning unmanned aircraft system testing, as well as research priorities.

In seeking user input, the FAA said the test sites would permit 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.”

AOPA, in response, said the FAA should tap the expert resource of its UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) during the test-site designation study. AOPA is a member of the panel--which includes representatives from the Department of Defense, NASA, and other airspace stakeholders. The committee also has members from the unmanned aircraft industry.

Williams emphasized that the FAA must shed more light on the UAS project as it proceeds, sharing data that would be of benefit and interest to “the entire aviation community.”

“To date, the FAA has chosen to maintain a very close hold on the current UAS operations being conducted in the national airspace system,” she wrote.

The UAS test sites are being developed under provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012—neither of which provided funding.

AOPA has consistently urged that UAS integration be conducted with a “do no harm” approach to current airspace users.

Throughout the UAS policy dialog and when commenting on specific proposals involving UAS, the association has maintained that creating new restricted airspace for UAS development would set a “bad precedent.”

AOPA looks forward to additional opportunities for public comment as the FAA develops its UAS oversight and implementation plan, Williams told the agency.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airspace, Advocacy

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