FAA Selects Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Sites; Regulatory Questions Remain

    29 January 2014

    FAA Action

    On December 30, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has selected six public entities to serve as research and testing sites for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). In selecting the sites from 25 nationwide applicants, the FAA considered geographic and climactic diversity, existing ground infrastructure, the type of research that would be conducted, and the experience of the applicants. 

    The sites and their intended areas of focus are:

    • University of Alaska - standards for safety of UAS operations, unmanned aircraft categories, monitoring, and navigation;
    • State of Nevada - operator standards and certification requirements, evolution of air traffic control procedures;
    • New York’s Griffiss International Airport - test, evaluation, verification, and validation processes for safety oversight, as well as sense and avoid capabilities;
    • North Dakota Department of Commerce - human factors research, essential data, and high reliability link technology;
    • Texas A&M University Corpus Christi - protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing; and
    • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - UAS failure mode testing, operational and technical risk areas.

    These sites will not immediately allow commercial and civil unmanned UAS to enter the national airspace, but rather will provide the FAA with the data necessary in order to develop regulations and operational standards. In addition to safety and privacy concerns, the FAA will focus on the following operational issues: ensuring UAS can detect and avoid other aircraft; ensuring UAS will operate safely if unlinked from the pilot; and developing pilot training requirements. The FAA expects to issue a proposed rule regarding commercial and civil use of small UAS by November 2014.