FAA delays selection of Miami Valley as posible test site

By Andrew McGinn

Staff Writer

Citing safety concerns and privacy issues, the Federal Aviation Administration has delayed indefinitely the selection of six U.S. sites for the testing of unmanned aircraft — one of which is hoped to be in the Dayton-Springfield region.

In a letter received late last week by the members of the Unmanned Systems Congressional Caucus, acting FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta singled out the need to first address privacy concerns that come with increasing the use of drones in the nation’s airspace.

The FAA was to have designated the six sites in December, but already had drawn the ire of the congressional caucus this summer when the agency failed to request site proposals by a July deadline.

“It’s unacceptable in my book that they’re delaying this,” U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek said Monday. “The reasons they’re giving us are the reasons they gave us four years ago.”

Winning a test-site designation is seen as key for the region to become a national hub for UAV research, development and manufacturing.

“I’ve spoken to a number of companies who’ve said they would love to build the planes right outside the door of where they could test them,” Austria said.

The frustration, he said, stems largely from the fact that the deadlines being missed by the FAA were of the agency’s own choosing. As it stands, the FAA has yet to ask for site proposals.

“They set their own timelines,” Austria said.

The Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center has actively petitioned the FAA on drone surveillance concerns.

Ever-evolving UAV technology is designed to be invasive to privacy and is more efficient than manned aircraft because drones fly longer and closer to the earth, said Amie Stepanovich, an EPIC lawyer.

If privacy isn’t protected now, UAV surveillance will rise, she said.

“What drones are capable of today is entirely different even than a year ago,” she said.

Austria said he too wants to make sure unmanned aerial vehicles are safe to fly in manned airspace, which speaks to the need for test sites. The sites will determine if remotely piloted aircraft can safely be integrated into manned airspace by 2015.

As many as 30 sites may compete for six sites, Austria said.

“The purpose of the pilot program was to allow the FAA to supervise six sites in a controlled environment,” he said.