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FAA’s UAS Test Sites Receive Blanket Authorizations

May 28, 2015  - By
Image: GPS World

The nation’s six unmanned aircraft system test sites now have blanket authorizations to fly drones and no longer have to seek authorizations for each type of aircraft flown, according to new Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The new regulations streamline the approval process for UAS research by the test sites. They also allow those with only a recreational- or sport-pilot certificate to conduct test-site operations. Previously, the rules required operators to have a private pilot’s license. A third-class medical certificate also is no longer required. Now an operator only needs a valid driver’s license to satisfy the medical requirement.

The FAA expects this improved access for the test sites will provide more opportunities for research that may help the agency integrate UAS into the nation’s airspace more quickly and easily.

Under the new regulations, drones under 55 pounds operated by test sites may fly during the day up to 200 feet above ground level anywhere in the country, except in restricted airspace or near airports and heliports.

The new Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) also let the test sites fly various types of UAS under a single COA, making it easier for them to conduct research missions. Previously, the FAA required authorization for each type of UAS the operators wanted to fly.

Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), praised the FAA announcement. “This new policy will make it easier for the test sites to perform the research needed to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace system. It is an exciting time for the unmanned aircraft systems industry and policies like this help further advance UAS innovation.”

When Wynne testified at the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology earlier in the year, he specifically called for a comprehensive industry-government UAS research plan, more resources for the federal government to coordinate UAS research and intellectual property protections for the companies that participate in UAS R&D.

According to Wynne’s take on the new policy, things are heading in the right direction. “This new policy, the Center of Excellence designation and the Pathfinder Program announced earlier this month, along with ongoing industry and government research efforts, all point to a future where the possible will become reality,” he says.

“Today’s FAA announcement is great news for the future of Nevada’s UAS Test Site effort,” says Tom Wilczek, aerospace and defense industry specialist for the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Nevada has been working diligently to get companies up and flying UAVs on our test sites, and the ability for us to implement public aircraft operations that fly under 200 feet … will significantly speed up the ability to test on our Nevada sites and move this emerging industry into commercial flights.”

The expanded operational parameters for the test sites are similar to those the FAA implemented in March for civil UAS operations authorized under a Section 333 exemption.

The six UAS test sites are the first public operators to receive this type of “blanket” airspace access across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The sites may still fly outside the “blanket” COA parameters if they receive or retain separate COAs specific to the airspace requested for those operations.

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