All Six UAS Test Sites Now Get Blanket COAs to Fly

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it is making it simpler for the six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites to conduct research: The agency has given them blanket authorizations to fly.

The new Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) allow small UAS (under 55 lbs.) operated by the test sites to fly up to 200 feet above ground level anywhere in the country – except restricted airspace and areas close to airports and heliports. Also, an operator must fly during the daytime and within visual line-of-sight of the pilot.

The FAA expects this improved access for the test sites will provide more opportunities for research that may help the agency integrate UAS into the nation’s airspace more quickly and easily.

The new authorizations also let the test sites fly various types of UAS under a single COA – making it easier for them to conduct research missions, the agency notes. Previously, the FAA required authorization for each type of UAS the operators wanted to fly.

The FAA now permits people who hold a recreational or sport pilot certificate to conduct test site operations under the blanket COA. Before, the agency required operators to hold at least a private pilot certificate. A third-class medical certificate also is no longer required: Now, an operator only needs a valid driver’s license to satisfy the medical requirement.

These expanded operational parameters for the test sites are similar to those the FAA implemented recently for civil UAS operations authorized under a Section 333 exemption.

The six UAS test sites are the first public operators to receive this type of blanket airspace access across the U.S., including in Alaska and Hawaii. The sites may still fly outside the blanket COA parameters if they receive or retain separate COAs specific to the airspace requested for those operations.

The test sites are based in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

‘[The] FAA announcement is great news for the future of Nevada's UAS test site effort,’ says Tom Wilczek, aerospace and defense industry specialist for the Nevada governor's office of economic development. ‘Nevada has been working diligently to get companies up and flying UAVs on our test sites, and the ability for us to implement public aircraft operations that fly under 200 feet and within safety rules mandated by the FAA will significantly speed up the ability to test on our Nevada sites and move this emerging industry into commercial flights.’

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley say the announcement cuts red tape for UAS test sites in Pendleton, Tillamook and Warm Springs (part of the Alaska test site airspace) to conduct research that creates jobs in an innovative industry.

“I am gratified the FAA responded to our call and will allow UAS development to soar even higher and create more good jobs that come with this innovative industry in Oregon and nationwide,” Wyden says.

“This news from FAA will help provide new jobs and an economic boost to rural areas of Oregon that are in need of good-paying jobs,” adds Merkley. “I’m pleased the FAA has removed the roadblocks from this burgeoning industry.’


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