Some say Arizona has too many drones now. Still, others had hoped that officials in Pima County wouldn’t be too busy cutting deals to buy more land from their buddies, and the Governor of Arizona wouldn’t be too busy alienating as many people in Washington as she could, to put together a winning proposal to become one of the test sites for unmanned aircraft.
Their hopes were dashed on Monday, when the FAA announced that Arizona’s offerings were not among the six unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test site operators who were selected. The sites were selected after a 10-month process involving 25 proposals from 24 states.
According to Politco, “the site selection is an important step toward tapping into the economic and job creation potential of drones over U.S. soil.” Politico reported that the announcement by the FAA was lauded as an “important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft,” by Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which represents more than 7,000 member companies in 60 countries.
In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk. In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs.
The six test site operators and the research they will conduct into future UAS use are below:
University of Alaska. The University of Alaska 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, 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 climactic 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 risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.
Each test site operator will manage the test site in a way that will give access to parties interested in using the site. The FAA’s role is to ensure each operator sets up a safe testing environment and to provide oversight that guarantees each site operates under strict safety standards.