The US Federal Aviation Administration will begin a competition for six unmanned air vehicle (UAV) test sites by the end of February, deputy administrator Jim Williams said during the 13 February meeting of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
The fiscal year 2012 FAA reauthorisation as approved by Congress contains a measure establishing six UAV test sites to experiment with UAV integration into national airspace, which is strictly regulated. Although the natures of the sites are not specified, the selection is eagerly expected by low-traffic airports hoping to attract new business.
The agency will also issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for small UAVs in the national airspace by the end of 2013.
"We anticipate releasing that notice of proposed rulemaking later this calendar year," an FAA official said at the meeting. "I'm doing everything I can to get it out sooner than that, but the process is very deliberate."
In any case, small UAVs will be flying before the NPRM goes out. Beginning in mid-2013, UAVs under around 50lb (22.7kg) will be allowed to fly for commercial purposes in a large area off the coast of Alaska. The area, defined by Congress, runs thousands of square miles off the north and west coasts of the state. It will be the only area that UAVs are allowed to operate for commercial purposes.
The regulatory agency is also considering the qualifications of potential ground-based UAV pilots and observers.
"We're making progress on pilot and observer certification standards. FAA plans to mirror the certification standards of manned aircraft, when it makes sense. When it does make sense, we'll adapt and try different approaches to pilot certification and training. We'll also take the same approach to medical certificates for unmanned observers and pilots."
"Congress has created the process by which all Federal rules are created," Williams said, responding to frustration from the UAV community. "That process is what we have to go through for every rule, I don't know that there's much we can do to change it."