After being briefed by Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, U.S. Senator for North Dakota John Hoeven says that the FAA is moving to the next stage of its site selection exercise to select six unmanned aerial system (UAS) pilot sites by the end of the year.
These test sites will be used for testing procedures to integrate remotely piloted aircraft into the National Air Space (NAS).
A congressional amendment introduced by Sen. Hoeven that was approved by Congress and signed by the President in February requires the FAA to get this UAS test site selection process completed by the end of 2012 and UAS flights fully integrated into the NAS by 2015.
Sen. Hoeven says the FAA is preparing to issue by the end of July or the beginning of August a Screening Information Request inviting jurisdictions to apply. A final decision on which six sites will be chosen will be made on schedule by the end of the year.
Congress has allocated a billion dollars for the pilot sites to test UAS-NAS integration. Spending on drones is expected to grow to $94 billion for the decade ending 2020, with the Pentagon leading the way at $36.9 billion for 730 medium and large unmanned aircraft systems.
The six chosen UAS pilot sites will get a huge slice of all this investment as companies rush to set up facilities where they can develop, test and sell drones to the Pentagon for military use and to other federal agencies and private buyers for domestic and commercial applications that range from law enforcement to weather forecasting, border patrols and disaster relief.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that Grand Forks is selected as one of six pilot sites in the country to integrate UAS flight into concurrent air space,” said Sen. Hoeven. “The pilot sites represent a huge opportunity for the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the university and the high-tech businesses that have been clustering in the area to support UAS operations.”
Other developments being pushed hard indicate the 2015 timeline to integrate UAS with the NAS is very much on the cards and eagerly anticipated.
The U.S. Army said it has completed a two-week trial of its new “sense and avoid” technology. They are now ready to begin the certification process for fielding the Ground Based Sense and Avoid system (GBSAA) to support UAS operations along with commercial aviation. The first deployment will be in Ft. Hood, Texas in March 2014, one year ahead of schedule.
Fort Hood will be followed by Fort Riley, KS; Fort Stewart, GA.; Fort Campbell, KY; and Fort Bragg, NC. All five sites will have the system by 2015.
Meanwhile, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) published a Code of Conduct for the industry to ensure that drones are operated in a “safe, non-intrusive” manner.
“The emergence of unmanned aircraft systems represents one of the most significant advancements to aviation, the scientific community, and public service since the beginning of flight,” said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of AUVSI. “With a commitment to safety, professionalism and respect, we can ensure unmanned aircraft are integrated responsibly into civil airspace.”