FAA Makes Progress With Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration
By Mike Mitchell
May 20, 2012 - For more than five decades, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has compiled a proven track record of introducing new technology and aircraft safely into the National Airspace System (NAS).
Most recently, the agency has been working to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the NAS. The FAA's sole mission and authority as it focuses on the integration of unmanned aircraft systems is safety.
Already, the agency has achieved the first unmanned aircraft systems milestone included in the 2012 FAA reauthorization, streamlining the process for public agencies to safely fly UAS in the nation's airspace.
Federal, state and local government entities must obtain an FAA
Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) before flying UAS
in the NAS. Now, under the FAA Reauthorization bill, the agency
must to find a way to expedite that COA process within 90 days
of enactment, which is May 14, 2012.
The FAA has been working with its government partners to
streamline COA procedures as part of the effort to ensure UAS
are safely integrated into the NAS. In 2009, the FAA, NASA and
the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security formed a UAS
Executive Committee, or "ExCom" to address UAS integration
issues. The ExCom established a working group that developed
suggestions to expedite the COA process and increase
transparency into those activities.
The FAA implemented recommendations, including establishing
metrics for tracking COAs throughout the process and improving
the on-time rate for granting an authorization.
Starting on March 29, 2012 the FAA introduced another
improvement by changing the length of authorization from the
current 12-month period to 24 months. If the FAA disapproves a
COA, the agency quickly addresses questions from the applicant
and tries to provide alternative solutions that will lead to
Another part of the reauthorization bill directed the FAA to "allow a
government public safety agency to operate unmanned aircraft weighing
4.4 pounds or less" under certain restrictions. The bill further
specifies these UAS must be flown within the line of sight of the
operator, less than 400 feet above the ground, during daylight
conditions, inside Class G (uncontrolled) airspace and more than five
miles from any airport or other location with aviation activities.
The FAA and the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice
have established an agreement that meets the congressional mandate.
Initially, law enforcement organizations will receive a COA for training
and performance evaluation. When the organization has shown proficiency
in flying its UAS, it will receive an operational COA. The agreement
also expands the allowable UAS weight up to 25 pounds.
The FAA continues to move aggressively toward the safe, timely and
efficient integration of UAS into the nation's air transportation
system. In March 2012, the agency created a new UAS Integration office,
headed by a single executive, which brings together specialists from the
aviation safety and air traffic organizations. The office serves as the
FAA's one-stop portal for all matters related to civil and public use of
unmanned aircraft systems in U.S. airspace.
Work for several other important milestones is underway in 2012. The FAA
received more than 200 comments after asking for public input on the
process for selecting six UAS test sites mandated by Congress. In July,
the agency expects to request proposals to manage the test sites in
order to make the selections in December. These sites are important
because they will provide valuable data to us safely integrate UAS into
the nation's airspace by 2015 as required by the 2012 FAA
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