The US Fedral Aviation Administration is soliciting public comment on the selection of test sites in the agency's ongoing effort to integrate unmanned air vehicles into national airspace. The fiscal year 2013 reauthorisation, the Congressional funding bill that keeps the FAA running, mandates that the organisation set up six UAV test sites by early February 2013.
"What we're trying to do right now is get public comment," says the FAA. "We're saying, okay, here's how we figure things should work. Are we right, should we add anything else?"
Neither the test regime nor the test site locations have been decided, but language within the bill stipulates that the test programme will run for five years.
UAVs operating in US airspace are restricted to small operating areas set aside specifically for their use. While heavy UAV users include the Department of Defense, various law enforcement agencies and research institutions, stringent airspace regulations prevent the commercial operations long forecast for unmanned aircraft.
The FY2013 FAA reauthorisation bill mandates that the agency draw up a comprehensive plan to integrate UAVs into the national airspace within 270 days of enactment, or September 2013. A proposed rulemaking plan for UAVs weighing under 2kg (4.4lb), operated by government or law enforcement entities, is due "in late spring" next year.
Other language in the reauthorisation states that UAVs are to be integrated into national airspace (NAS) by September 2015, but details remain open for interpretation.
"The act mandates that we have safe integration, not full integration, into the NAS by 2015," says the FAA.