FAA suspends site selection for UAS airspace integration

Washington DC
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The FAA has indefinitely delayed site selection for unmanned air system (UAS) trial flights, effectively stalling the push to integrate UAVs into civil airspace.

In a letter to Congressman Howard McKeon, Republican from California and chairman of the House Unmanned Systems Caucus, the FAA has stated that the establishment of six test sites for UAS for experimentation is suspended.

"Our target was to have six test sites by the end of 2012," says the letter, signed by acting FAA administrator Michael Huerta. "However, increasing the use of UAS in our airspace also raises privacy issues, and these issues will need to be addressed as unmanned aircraft are safely integrated."

Site selection is specified in the FAA's latest reauthorization, the Congressional legislation that funds the agency for the coming year. The sites, which were to be identified by August, 2012, are not specified. The same legislation commits the FAA to establishing rules to integrate small UAS by 2015.

Under current aviation rules, no UAS are allowed into civil airspace without an explicit certificate of authorization by the FAA. Such authorizations to date have included cumbersome requirements, including dedicated air traffic controllers and required chase aircraft.

Allowing UAS regular access to national airspace raises concerns among privacy advocates, who argue that the aircraft could be used to monitor people without their knowledge or consent, in much the same way as the US military does over Afghanistan.

"The FAA will complete its statutory obligations to integrate UAS into the national airspace as quickly and efficiently as possible," says Huerta's letter. "However, we must fulfill those obligations in a thoughtful, prudent manner that ensures safety, addresses privacy issues, and promotes economic growth."