Coming to Airspace Near You: Unmanned Aircraft

 - March 8, 2012, 4:00 PM

The FAA has to set up at least six unmanned aircraft system (UAS) test sites in the U.S. by the end of June under Section 331(c) of the FAA reauthorization bill that became law last month. Thus, the agency is now asking for public input on the selection process of these sites. Specifically, the request for comment asks for input on such things as public versus private management of the sites; research activities and capabilities of the test areas; the requirements for test site operators; and the geographic and climate factors that should influence site selection.

The FAA expects this UAS pilot program, when established, to provide valuable data to help the agency “safely and efficiently” integrate unmanned aircraft into airspace occupied by manned airplanes. 

Section 332 of the FAA bill also specifies that UASs will need to be integrated into the National Airspace System by Sept. 30, 2015, though small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 4.4 pounds would have to be accommodated this year. Toward this end, the FAA is working on a proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft. The agency has also convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to study UAS integration issues.