Aerial systems test sites following red tape rules

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The big announcement of the six national test sites for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) was only the first step in putting things into motion for “testing” at each of the six sites authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for commercial UAS activities.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce was one of the six sites given the duty to supervise commercial testing, research and UAS activities. That left a lot more decisions to be made and approved by the FAA for specific sites and authorized activities across the whole state.

The same holds true for the other activity sites to be supervised by the University of Alaska, State of Nevada, Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The only site supervision group that seems to have a more distinct operating space might be New York Griffiss International Airport.   

The activities that are proceeding in regard to the North Dakota site were outlined in a recent Grand Forks Herald newspaper article.

“Officials have submitted applications for certificate of authorization (COA) waivers to the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct research projects near Carrington, N.D., and near Devils Lake, N.D. Those projects would be the first two projects conducted here under the FAA test site designation,” wrote John Hageman, a reporter for the newspaper.

The two operations are proposed university studies—one each by North Dakota State University and University of North Dakota. The UAS flight technicians must record data such as flight duration, weather conditions and if there were any “incidents” and report this information to the FAA. Data from the research project will not have to be shared with the FAA. Manned aircraft will be alerted with a “notice to airman” where and when UAS flights will occur.

One project will look at comparing data obtained from a UAS and data gathered from the ground and compare accuracy. The other project will use UAS to survey elk, deer and bison numbers in a national game preserve.

Of course, the politicians who supposedly didn’t have an influence on where the national test sites were awarded are taking credit for UAS research being located in their states. An example is North Dakota’s congressional delegation and other government leaders suggesting because North Dakota is a test site then the state should quickly progress to being “a hub to the UAS industry” and high-tech jobs being developed in the state.

Of course, there are those who have petitioned the FAA to move faster in allowing UAS to be used commercially, including more than 30 groups that signed a letter just last week. There contention is that the nation doesn’t need months or years of study by researchers when the contention is not whether UAS can provide needed services but how UAS can be operated safely and efficiently in U.S. air space—not whether UAS should be banned and agriculture, more than any other industry, have its progress inhibited.


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