After a 10-month selection process involving 25 proposals from 24 states, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has chosen six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test site operators across the U.S.
In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA says it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk. In totality, the FAA reports that these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the agency meet its UAS research needs.
According to the FAA, the six test site operators include the following:
– University of Alaska. The University of Alaska proposal contains 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 aid 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 climatic 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 risk areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.
Across the six applicants, the FAA notes that it is confident that the agency's research goals of system safety and data gathering; aircraft certification; command and control link issues; control station layout and certification; ground and airborne sense and avoid; and environmental impacts will be met.
The agency notes that each operator will manage the test site in a way that will give access to parties interested in using the site. The FAA adds that its role is to ensure each operator sets up a safe testing environment and provide oversight that guarantees each site operates under strict safety standards.
The FAA says that among other requirements, test site operators must comply with federal, state and other laws protecting an individual's right to privacy; have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention; and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.
Under the current law, test site operations will continue until at least Feb. 13, 2017, the FAA notes.