FAA names six sites for UAS research

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA has selected the six public entities that will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites around the country.

The sites will conduct tests and research into operational requirements for integrating UAS, more commonly called drones, into the national airspace.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the first site is expected to be operational within 180 days and others quickly after that. He called the selection of the sites a “a major step” in the integration of drones into the system.

The agency, in February 2013, had solicited proposals from those interested in conducting the test sites. Twenty five proposals were received. The test sites are not funded by the government. Each organization will determine its own source of revenue.

In selecting the six sites, geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk were considered by the FAA.

Some drones are operational now, most for border patrol or other law enforcement groups. Huerta said drones are expected to increase substantially over the years.

The sites selected are:

University of Alaska. The proposal contained 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. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations.

State of Nevada. Nevada’s project objectives concentrate of 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 climate diversity.

New York Griffiss International Airport. Griffiss 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 aide in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into congested, northeast airspace.

North Dakota Department of Commerce. North Dakota plans to develop airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. The 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 remote testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. The proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

Flights of unmanned vehicles in the airspace in and around locations of these research sites may be expected from time to time, but NOTAMS will be issued if and when necessary to alert pilots.

What kind of pilot training will be needed to ensure safety of unmanned vehicles mixing in the airspace with pilot aboard vehicles is also an important area for research.


  1. Ray Russell says

    I feel this is a threat to general aviation. It is being pushed down our throats by big business supported by our government. All of this eventually paid for by our tax dollars. Don’t general aviation and the general public have any say in this?

    • Dave says

      Well, those same business interests are up in arms because they claim the FAA is needlessly delaying UAS integration.

      My guess would be GA has more to fear from small UAS being flown by smaller businesses and UAS hobbyists than from the larger ones that will be flown by big business.

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