FAA Reauthorization Amendments Would Streamline UAS Research, Extend Test Sites


The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment authored by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to ensure greater public- and private-sector coordination of research and policy development for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the mission of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Center of Excellence (COE).

The Cochran amendment has been adopted as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act (H.R.636) being debated by the Senate. According to Cochran, the amendment would prevent duplicative research efforts and strengthen existing UAS research programs at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including the COE and existing UAS test sites.

Established in May 2015, the COE is a public-private partnership headed by a consortium led by Mississippi State University in coordination with 21 other universities. More than 100 industry partners provide matching funding to support the COE research related to integrating UAS technology into national airspace. In order to prevent duplication of efforts, the COE coordinates with the six UAS test sites established by the FAA.

The Cochran amendment was co-sponsored by Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Hoeven has also announced that the passage of an amendment he authored and introduced that will extend for five years congressional authorization of the six test sites.

Under current law, the test sites’ authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2017. The 2012 FAA reauthorization bill authorized the test sites for five years, and the current Hoeven amendment would extend their authorization through Sept. 30, 2022.

“The test sites have already made remarkable gains, such as nighttime operations, flying multiple aircraft in the same airspace, and researching and testing aircraft up to 1,200 feet,” Hoeven says. “Nevertheless, there’s much left to do, and that will require investment and support from industry partners. Those partners will be much more likely to use the FAA test sites if they can be sure those sites will be operational beyond the end of fiscal year 2017.”

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