The U.S. trade organization representing the unmanned systems industry stepped up pressure on the FAA to select six test ranges for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as required by the FAA reauthorization act signed into law in February. The designation of test sites has been held up over the issue of privacy arising from the surveillance capabilities of UAS. “We request the FAA to immediately announce its UAS test site selection process in order to move UAS integration forward without further delay,” the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) states in a release issued on November 28.
The reauthorization legislation directed the FAA to establish a UAS pilot program at the ranges within six months of its enactment, or by August 12. The agency initiated the effort in March with a request for comments that attracted 226 responses, but it has yet to name the test sites.
In a September letter to the AUVSI, and more recently in a letter to the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, FAA acting administrator Michael Huerta cited the issue of privacy for delaying the site selection process.
“Our target was to have the six test sites named by the end of 2012,” Huerta stated in a November 1 letter to the House caucus. “However, increasing the use of UAS in our airspace also raises privacy issues, and these issues will need to be addressed as unmanned aircraft are safely integrated. We are working to move forward with the proposals for the six test sites as we evaluate options with our interagency partners to appropriately address privacy concerns regarding the expanded use of UAS.”
In a joint statement this week, AUVSI Chairman Peter Bale and president and CEO Michael Toscano argue that safety should be the FAA’s primary concern in evaluating test sites. “As an industry, we support a continued, civil dialogue on privacy, but any such conversations should take place concurrent with the (UAS) integration,” they said. “The selection process for the six test sites is a separate issue and should be treated as such. Meanwhile, the FAA should adhere to its mission and do what it does best—focus on the safety of the U.S. airspace—while other, more appropriate institutions consider privacy issues.”
Also being awaited from the FAA is a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would govern the operation of small UAS weighing up to about 55 pounds in unrestricted airspace. The agency had indicated before that it would publish the NPRM by the end of 2011.