Unmanned trials tipped for FAA go-ahead

Private industry is to soon be offered the opportunity to experiment at six test sites under US Federal Aviation Administration measures to advance safe integration of unmanned aircraft within civilian airspace.

Speaking at this week’s AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems North America event in Las Vegas, acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said a new Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office is currently working on a solicitation of proposals for the test sites.

“There are operational issues that we need to address to safely integrate unmanned systems into our airspace, such as pilot training,” said Huerta. “We also need to make sure that unmanned aircraft see and avoid other aircraft and that they operate safely if they lose the link to their pilot.”

“This is why developing more test data is so important. Earlier this spring we asked for public input on the congressional mandate of establishing six test sites for civil unmanned aircraft systems. We need to make sure we use these sites to obtain the best data that we can. We are evaluating the comments and expect to ask for proposals to manage these sites soon.”

He told delegates that the new office which is headed by Jim Williams is designed to provide a centralised one-stop portal for all matters related to civil and public use of unmanned aircraft systems in US airspace, as opposed to the previous model where UAS issues were handled in different parts of the agency.

The office will develop a comprehensive plan to integrate unmanned aircraft systems and will establish operational and certification requirements for UAS. It will also oversee and coordinate UAS research and development.

“Rest assured the FAA will fulfil its statutory obligations to integrate UAS. But we must fulfill those obligations in a thoughtful, careful manner that ensures safety, addresses privacy concerns and promotes economic growth,” said Huerta who noted that the office has already received the first application for a type certificate for commercial unmanned aircraft.

Huerta said the FAA was dedicated to working with stakeholders and government partners within the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA in addition to NextGen agency, the Joint Planning and Development Office to define parameters for the safe integration of diverse systems into complex airspace.

He said the US already had a good track record with UAS, with the FAA experienced in authorising limited use of unmanned aircraft systems for important missions in the public interest, including firefighting, disaster relief, search and rescue, law enforcement, border patrol, military training and testing and evaluation.

“Just this year, the FAA quickly approved an emergency application for humanitarian assistance using a small UAS – about three pounds – to survey ice ridges near the harbour of Nome, Alaska in January,” said Huerta.

The Aeryon Scout UAS  was launched from the shore in Nome and sent back photos of the ice. The information from this UAS helped a tanker get as close to shore as possible and also helped with the placement of the supply hose, which was used to offload the fuel to the Nome community in the middle of winter.

Huerta also told delegates of steps to automate the online application process for the public use of unmanned aircraft which has reduced the time required for authorisation for non-emergency operations to less than 60 days, with the renewal period extended to two years.

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One Response to Unmanned trials tipped for FAA go-ahead

  1. Anna Lands says:

    There’s a very noisy silence when it comes to consideration for everything and everyone within
    the proposed test ranges. Is it just a matter of “duh! I never thought about it”? or is the issue so inconvenient that no one wants to acknowledge it? Other?
    I am one of many people who live within a proposed UAS test range. The test range was identified
    by the Arizona Aerospace and Defense Commission and the Arizona Commerce Authority. Dazzled
    by dollar signs (and who can blame them?), the City of Benson and the Cochise County Supervisors
    have blessed the Benson Airport as a hopeful UAS test site even after our cautions and protests. There
    was no ignorance there, just the act of ignoring citizens defending themselves against incivility. The state, the city and the county have each played a part in placing humans and a unique, irreplaceable natural environment at risk. People in the test ranges ARE stakeholders.