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UAS test site competition

FAA to begin UAS test site competition this month

By: Mark Rockwell
The Federal Aviation Administration will launch its competition for test sites for unmanned aircraft systems by the beginning of March, said the agency’s head of unmanned systems integration.

Jim Williams, director of the agency’s UAS integration office, announced the schedule at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Program Review 2013, which took place in McLean, VA.

“When will the test site selection begin? I’m sure all of you are asking that,” Williams said in his keynote presentation at the conference on Feb. 13, according to the association. “And the answer is we’re getting closer every day, very close as a matter of fact. My office is working diligently to release the screening information request, and we are committed to releasing it before the end of this month.”

The FAA has been under pressurefrom some of the states hoping to host the six proposed test sites to move ahead with the program.

The sites are expected to generate millions in revenue and create thousands of jobs in each location that’s ultimately chosen. Twenty-six states, including those as diverse as, Hawaii, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, have expressed interest in hosting one of the test sites.

The sites are aimed at demonstrating how unmanned aircraft can fly safely in the National Airspace System. They will include various technical safety concerns and demonstrate sense-and-avoid solutions, he said.

Williams, according to USVSI, also said the agency will address privacy concerns, which lawmakers and the public have said are dire. The concerns are so great, that some states, like Florida and Virginia and cities like Seattle, moving to pass laws that would curtail use of the aircraft.

Williams said the privacy issues can’t be fully addressed without the test sites, and urged the UAS industry to “get serious your industry standards should be to ensure privacy protection.”

According to AUVSI, Williams also said a proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft that allows freer use of the vehicles is expected to be released by the end of this year.

Even before that, said the association, flights of small aircraft in the Arctic are expected to begin this summer. The defined area is huge, it said, stretching from the Bering Sea to the Aleutians and nearly to the North Pole. Within that area, the small UAS can fly beyond line of sight and up to 2,000 feet.

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