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FAA announces UAS test sites in Alaska/US

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the selection of six public entities nationwide that include Alaska which will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites.

The congressionally mandated test sites will conduct critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate the UAS into the national airspace over the next several years, according to an FAA release. The announcement came on Dec. 30, 2013.

The following have been chosen:

  • University of Alaska. The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations.
  • State of Nevada. Nevada’s project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant’s research will also include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with NextGen. Nevada’s selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport.Griffiss International plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aide in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce. North Dakota plans to develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. This applicant will also conduct human factors research. North Dakota’s application was the only one to offer a test range in the Temperate (continental) climate zone and included a variety of different airspace which will benefit multiple users.
  • Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

The FAA’s role in the UAS program is to help the test site operators set up a safe testing environment and to provide oversight that ensures the sites operate under strict safety standards, according to a press release it issued.

“Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.”

Concerns over aviation safety by the Alaska Airmen’s Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association will hopefully be included in the UAV research. Pilots are wary of UAVs and want to avoid tragic disasters between UAVs and piloted aircraft.

The FAA released an updated annual roadmap outlining guidelines to integrate unmanned vehicle use into the national airspace system in Nov. 2013.

Rob Stapleton can be reached at: robstapleton(at)alaska.net

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