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FAA Makes Progress with UAS Integration

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 COA Process
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.

The agency also developed an automated, web-based process to streamline steps and ensure a COA application is complete and ready for review. The agency already has expedited procedures in place to grant one-time COAs for time-sensitive emergency missions such as disaster relief and humanitarian efforts.

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 approval.

First Responders
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.

A New Office for New Technology
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.

Upcoming UAS Activities 
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 reauthorization.

And later this year, the FAA expects to release a proposed rule that will establish policies, procedures and standards for a wide spectrum of users in the small UAS community. This class of UAS will likely experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses.

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5 thoughts on “FAA Makes Progress with UAS Integration
  1. What is being done about spectrum management with regard to oeration of UAV in the NAS? Numerous UAVs operating on a broad variety of spectrums will likely create interference that could render them ineffective or useless to individual users being stepped on by other users. I expect each of the six future test sites will closely manage this but I am not sure if the FAA COA process will be successful at deconfliction of frequency interference which could lead to less than full integration for adjaecnt users stepping upon one another. Omnipressent Loss of Link Emergencies due to frequency interference would likely prevent mission accomplishment for first responders (and others) and would definitely hurt the admirable goal of full integration into the NAS.

  2. I’m not really seeing anything new in here except for the 24 month extended period. It can take 6 to 9 months to get a COA. Longer if you’re on the persona non grata list, shorter if you are on the preferred vendor list. So, I’m not seeing anything to get excited about with the exception of another missed deadline.

    Where’s the accountability?

  3. You nailed it, Patrick. This is the same old song – no news at all, no mention of the NRPM, only thing different is the 24 month COA. Evidently they’re not paying any attention to their mandated deadlines so I guess we shouldn’t be disappointed that the NPRM still hasn’t materialized.

    I’d hold my breath that they’re going to get the job done but I’d just turn blue and pass out…..

  4. I hate to mention this, but does the FAA even enforce most of the UAV laws (referring to the private sector)?

  5. Yes, the FAA shut down Mi6 Films,told them in a letter that ALL Airspace has been closed for comercial use of doing aerial photograpghy with their remote control helicopters. Take a look at their website for the details.
    SO it’s OK for them to put a US Business out of business until they get around to doing their JOB.

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