FAA Issues Request for UAS Test Site Proposals

 - February 15, 2013, 6:59 AM

The FAA issued a much-anticipated screening information request (SIR) that seeks proposals from public entities including state and local governments and universities to operate six test ranges for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The agency is also soliciting public input on a draft privacy policy that test site operators will be required to follow as part of their contracts.

The agency announced the test-site solicitation late Thursday, exactly one year after President Obama signed into law the 2012 FAA reauthorization act. In that legislation, Congress directed the FAA to establish the test site program within six months of the law’s enactment to conduct research into integrating UAS in the national airspace system.

The FAA initiated the test-site selection process last spring, but held off issuing the SIR while it considered privacy issues arising from the surveillance capabilities of unmanned aircraft. In a separate solicitation published in the Federal Register, the agency is seeking public comment within 60 days on a draft privacy policy. According to that notice, the policy will be incorporated into an “other transaction agreement,” or contract that test site operators will enter into with the FAA.

In selecting the six test sites, the FAA said it will evaluate proposals on criteria including geographic and climatic diversity, location of ground infrastructure, population density and air traffic density. The agency said applicants have 80 days to submit their proposals.

“Today’s announcement by the FAA is an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft and creating thousands of American jobs,” Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said on Thursday. “States across the country have been eager to receive this FAA designation because they recognize the incredible economic and job creation potential it would bring with it.”

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The area North of the airport site in Benson, Arizona is being considered for the UAS and I hope it is rejected because of the surrounding rural area that these Unmanned Aircraft would operate over. This area has many ranches with cattle, horses and other wildlife that would be disturbed from the noise of the Drones. Another reason is if one of these drones should crash the fire hazard would not be able to be contained and thousands of acres would be destroyed as well as homes and domestic property and wildlife. With the thousands of desert areas in Arizona with none of the above mentioned hazards I would certainly hope they would be selected if Arizona is chosen for this project. Reports by some local businesses that claim there is not many humans here in this area are totally false and outright lies.

I am sorry sir, but I completely disagree.

Here is some basic background information about me. I grew up in Benson Arizona. My parents actually still live in the house I grew up in, and have been residents in AZ and actually graduated from both ST. David and Benson Schools back in 72' and 73'. I am a UAV mechanic. My career started back in 2007 after graduating from Cochise College in Douglas, AZ with an A&P certificate. At that time I was hired by a well known company in the UAV world. Some of our great family friends have some of the biggest privately owned ranches in AZ (not state leased as most ranchers are in that area). I know tons of people with Farm land close to the San Pedro River. I am an avid fisherman, hunter, and all around outdoorsman. I do believe in the First and Second amendments with all of my heart, and believe in privacy as well.

The problem with the public being able to comment and subject opinions before knowing facts and how these systems work is a poor decision by the FAA in the first place. There are multitudes of FAIL SAFES built into UAV systems to prevent such mishaps you describe. I will be the first one to admit, if I didn’t know the laws and regulations that are in place with these systems, I would probably have some of the same arguments you do. To embark some knowledge on you I will start off with some of the basics and move on from there as to not leave anybody reading this behind.

First off I would like to note that we have been flying UAV's in Arizona for well over a decade... Fort Huachuca. I have personally worked at Fort Huachuca for 3 years in the UAV word. There has never been a fire due to a crash. You have more of a chance of fire in AZ due to a Lightening strike than from a UAV (as we see these fires dang near every year). This is Due to many reasons... when a UAV crashes 99.9 percent of the time a parachute is involved. I have witnessed 4 crashes (Parachute Testing) in the desert that resulted in minimal damage to those associated AV's. There is also a "ditching Point" involved. This is a point picked out on a map where there is 0%population and over a minimal amount of vegetation, not to mention easy access as to recover downed aircraft. They have coordinates picked out where an AV that has lost comms will fly to so they can work out the issue or the AV will automatically deploy parachute and slowly fall to the ground.

Secondly, the only areas affected by noise will be those located extremely close to the airport (an active airport... that already has planes flying in and out of). Mind you it is an airport... they are going to be loud. Now army regulation states that the types of aircraft I am involved in (as well as the types that would be flying out of Benson) can't do a mission below 2,000 FT AGL. By the time the UAV is at mission altitude the noise is no louder than that of a 747 flying at 30,000 FT AGL. For some other added information I have observed many different species of wildlife in many different areas around the world during flight operations and wouldn’t you know that the UAV's didn't even have an effect on their movement patterns (such as a deer following the same trail every day to a watering hole). I have also performed flight operations in FT Hood, Texas. All of the training ranges in this place are leased by the Government in order to use them. This means that the ranchers are compensated for there land while still using their land for cattle! That means they get money while still using there land as they have been for many years. Amazingly enough, often times we would have to slowly "SHOO" cattle off of our runway during all operations of the day as they were not affected by the noise from running up engines during training. (Much like a fellow rancher that uses a chain saw to cut down mesquite for fire wood while is cows stare at him)

Here comes the big topic (I understand that this was not in your comment and I thank you for that). There are regulations that are strongly observed which (not word for word) state no UAV can be used for Personal gain, or incriminating actions outside of the military. In other words you are not supposed to observe civilians... consider it a "no look area". Jo shmo isn't even allowed to check to see if his girlfriend went to the gym like she said she would. And no... UAV's do not have the ability to see through walls or roofs. They use the same technology as most police helicopters have which is infrared cameras, not X-Ray vision cameras.

This is purely going to be a test site. It isn't intended for use with police, border patrol, or "spying" on civilians.

In conclusion I would like to say this. I currently have a residence in Tooele, Utah as my company was forced to move outside of Ft Huachuca due to politics. The UAV project in Utah brought a couple hundred contractors to that area. Tooele is a small town, much like Benson and grew economically, but not into a city. It still has the small town feel that I have grown to know and love. If I thought this project would hinder my hometown rather than making it a greater place to live, I would be the first to say so.

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