A Mississippi State-led consortium and the Federal Aviation Administration are moving forward with groundbreaking work to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace after a successful kickoff summit in the nation's capital.

"We had a fantastic first meeting," said USAF Maj. Gen. (Ret.) James Poss, the executive director of the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).

In May, the FAA announced that ASSURE will operate the new National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Last week's meeting in Washington, D.C., brought together all 15 core university members of the coalition to meet with agency officials.

"We are looking forward to a successful partnership as we take leading-edge UAS research and turn it into FAA rules quickly," Poss said.

Discussions in Washington during the kickoff conference earlier this month focused on key UAS research areas, including detection and avoidance, flying beyond visual line of sight, airworthiness standards, airborne and ground impact studies, and maintenance certification, among others.

Poss said that the ASSURE team and the FAA will meet quarterly. Mississippi State will host the next gathering in the fall.

"We anticipate that contributions by our industry partners will continue to grow, as well," Poss said.

More than 100 of the world's leading UAS, aerospace and related companies and manufacturers are members of ASSURE.

The FAA expects the center of excellence will be able to begin research by September this year, and be fully operational and engaged in a robust research agenda by January 2016.

While research will take place at member universities throughout the U.S. and globally, the center's work will be concentrated at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County to take advantage of airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, in the Mississippi Delta to conduct unmanned precision agriculture research, and around Mississippi State's Raspet Flight Research Lab in Starkville.

The directive to the FAA to establish the national center has been included in congressional appropriations bills since FY2012, with Congress appropriating $5 million to support a five-year agreement with the COE UAS. Federal funding will be matched by ASSURE team members.

For additional information about ASSURE, contact Poss at jposs@hpc.msstate.edu or 228-688-6988 or visit www.assureuas.org online.

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