FAA Seeks Test Sites for UAS Introduction

 - April 4, 2012, 12:35 AM

The FAA is looking for a few good sites to test unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), signaling that momentum is building toward merging manned and unmanned aircraft in unrestricted airspace.

The agency announced March 7 that it is seeking public comment on the site-selection process in advance of issuing a request for proposals to operate the sites. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, signed into law on February 14, requires the FAA to establish a test program for UAS within six months. The reauthorization bill also sets a deadline for the integration of civil unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS) “as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.” Similarly, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, enacted on December 31, calls on the FAA to establish a test program at six ranges, reflecting the military’s strong interest in opening access to the NAS for unmanned aircraft.

In addition to the 2015 deadline for UAS integration, the FAA reauthorization bill instructs the agency within three months to “simplify” the existing process of issuing certificates or waivers of authorization to government agencies that operate unmanned aircraft in the NAS and, sooner, to allow public-safety agencies to fly UAS weighing 4.4 pounds or less in remote Class G airspace under certain conditions.

Draft Rule Not Yet Released

The legislative direction on UAS adds urgency to the FAA’s own plodding regulatory process. The agency chartered a small UAS aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) in April 2008 that one year later issued recommendations for introducing UAS weighing up to 55 pounds into the NAS. The recommendations were intended to inform a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) being promulgated by the FAA. The agency expected to release the NPRM by last December, but the draft rule has since been postponed with no definitive release date announced. Richard Prosek, manager of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft program office, told a late-February meeting of RTCA Special Committee 203, which is developing UAS performance standards, that the NPRM should be released by the end of June.

The delay may have as much to do with legal concerns as with technical considerations. One source said the FAA’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, is likely “doing a good scrub” of the draft rule over liability issues. Already, the pending introduction of UAS–or “drones” in mainstream parlance–into civilian, unrestricted airspace faces scrutiny from organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life,” the ACLU warned in a December paper containing recommendations for restricted usage of UAS. “[T]he technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing and our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values.”

Weighing in on the side of timely integration of unmanned aircraft are the UAS industry, proponents in Congress and powerful federal agencies. In its most recent aerospace forecast issued in March, the FAA said more than 50 companies, universities and government organizations are developing and producing 155 unmanned aircraft designs. “Based upon the expected regulatory environment,” the agency said it predicts “roughly 10,000 active commercial UASs in five years.” Last June, the FAA formed a new ARC to recommend on issues arising from broad introduction of UAS into the airspace.

The FAA reauthorization bill directs the agency to consult with NASA and the Department of Defense in determining the six UAS test range locations. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, testifying in March before House and Senate appropriations subcommittees, said the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office will lead efforts to achieve the integration of UAS in the NAS as of Fiscal Year 2013, which begins in October.


It doe's not really enjoy the love of the sUAS industry as they are not being represented.


There are probably at least 5000 private UAS operating in the USA right now, regulations are probably going to make little difference.

The FAA has missed the boat on this one and should have adopted simple rules as Australia and the UK did a couple of years ago.

The FAA should just do it's testing at Area 51

FAA makes it real hard to comment on this...you have to really 'drill down' to find a proper link...so I'm assuming they really don't want comments.
My comment would be: don't we have enough restricted airspace...why can't they use existing MOA's or Alert areas????

It's a big country with lots of airspace, at least in the plains states and west. Should be possible to use parts of the existing lightly used MOAs, or create new UAS areas so as to avoid trafficed routes. I do not understand the apparent insistence on free and unfettered access by UAS to civilian airspace - we're one disaster away from draconian rules.

Any time you want to comment on proposed rules from any governmental agency, just go to www.Regulations.gov.

If you type "UAS" in the search field, the regulation you're looking for shows as the second result. Not that hard at all.

To post your comments, visit:

The "Submit a Comment" link is clearly visible in the upper-right-hand corner.

As a Florida pilot, I am opposed to any more of the NAS being carved out for any purpose. I like the idea of MOA's and Alert areas, but I imagine the canned response you'll get from the FAA will have to do with "incompatible operations" and "authorizing agency conflicts."

If anything, with the technology we have today, use Satellite and RADAR imagery for the past year (two? three?), and look at areas that HAVE NOT been overflown. I'd hate to see that airspace go, but if it has to, let it be something that isn't used, already.

Living in North West Florida in the vicinity of Eglin AFB and its many test ranges I can tell you that airspace comes at a high price. The use of MOA's and other restricted areas must remain flexible to fit the missions of various test programs. At any given moment a test item may need to be destroyed or brought down in an unpopulated safe area for recovery, only military areas offer that security. The reason the FAA wants to have these test sites to include G airspace is to prove the concept of compatability of "drones vs GA aircraft". The use of this airspace by the military or airlines is a mute point. As a GA pilot myself just dealing with possibility of a bird strike is enough for me to review the B.A.S.H. reports in my area and yes a 4.4 lb bird can take down more than a Cessena 172, a lot more. These drones and the FAA, along with Law Enforcement are hell bent on cramming this down the throats of GA pilots and rest of the people. They would have you believe that domestic and foreign terrorists are in great numbers amongst us and need to be tracked or eliminated from the air by the same drones one day in our backyard. Will this new method of "protection" help the crime rate decline? No, they can't control it with what they have now, real humans in the loop and not some one sittng behind an Xbox console deciding if your a threat. Our only hope is that this idea becomes so popular that there are thousands in the air at once, crashing into each other or into someones family and the Government gettings it's collective posterior sued. What a field day for the lawyers uh?

Just read the aeronautical charts for military operations areas (MOAs). There are at least several in each state or several hundred to pick from for use. No need and an imperative no need to upset existing air space with any additions. Most MOAs appear to be substantially underused anyway; should and must share joint use with any test aircraft. This is a no brainer. Why is anyone wasting so much time on what should be obvious; test aircraft in MOAs.

As a pilot I worry about midairs with drones when they start flying, so I think it might be safest for the drones to be tested in the District of Columbia. No civilian aircraft at all are allowed in that area. so drones could be flown safely without having to worry about collisions with civilian aircraft. And when the military flies there, they can demand no drones be flown for that period. This is such a brilliant idea, isn't it? :-) You're welcome!

In Maine the airspace is vast and the ex-USAF base Loring would love to have some visitors. The runway is over 12,000 long and very wide.

GA aircraft can now fly into any MOA subject to the see and be seen VFR procedures. Pilots are very vigilant when flying in these areas.
How does a UAS see a GA aircraft in any airspace?

GA aircraft can now fly into any MOA subject to the see and be seen VFR procedures. Pilots are very vigilant when flying in these areas.
How does a UAS see a GA aircraft in any airspace?

As it was the mandate of Congress to include this in the FAA Bill, I can think of no better airspace to do testing and integration than Washington DC.
I'm funny about my airspace that way....and I don't want to share it with a UAS.

I also propose that the drone testing be performed within the Class B airspace over Washington D.C. As of late, there appears to be nothing much of any value in that area should anything go wrong.

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