"Alaska UAS Test Site Announcement"
Michael Huerta, Alaska
May 5, 2014

UAS Test Site Announcement

Thank you, Vice Chancellor Mark Myers, for that introduction.

It’s great to be here with all of you in Alaska, where aviation is a way of life. I’m here today to share some great news.

Continuing with the heritage of aviation and exploration that’s so much a part of Alaska, I am delighted to announce that the FAA is granting an authorization to allow a test site run by the University of Alaska to start flying unmanned aircraft. This site is one of six nationally that will conduct research on the best way to integrate unmanned aircraft into our nation’s airspace. Alaska is positioned to make great contributions to our knowledge of unmanned aircraft.

The first topic of research will be ecology. The University of Alaska will conduct flights of the unmanned Aeryon Scout – a 2.5 pound helicopter with cameras. It will test the ability to locate, recognize and count populations of wild animals such as caribou, reindeer, musk ox and bear. This work will take place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station. Researchers expect to use it in several geographic areas around the state during the summer. Taking a census of wild animals is very tedious work and involves flying over very rough terrain far from assistance. The test will demonstrate whether the unmanned aircraft can improve upon the quality of the data.

This site also will collect safety-related operational data. Since the research station is located within five miles of Fairbanks International Airport, the flights will evaluate procedures for coordination with air traffic controllers, as well as the type and frequency of operational data it transmits. This information will help the FAA analyze current processes for establishing the airworthiness of small unmanned aircraft.

These vehicles are a revolutionary technology. We all see the potential, yet there are operational goals as well as safety issues that we must consider when planning the expansion of unmanned aircraft in our nation’s airspace.

We need to make sure that pilots are properly trained. We also need to make sure that unmanned aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft, and that they operate safely if they lose the link to their pilot.

The FAA, as the provider of air traffic services, must ensure the safety and efficiency of the entire airspace, including all aircraft, people and property – both manned and unmanned – in the air and on the ground.

This test site, and the others across the country, will provide invaluable information to help us develop policies and procedures to ensure safe, responsible and transparent integration.

You have a wide base of aviation knowledge here in Alaska. Operators in this state already have permission to use an unmanned aircraft in the Arctic region for commercial purposes. A Scan Eagle completed a flight last year to view marine mammals and survey ice above the Arctic Circle. Such surveys are needed to meet environmental and safety requirements before drilling for oil on the sea floor.

This flight was coordinated by ConocoPhillips, Insitu – the manufacturer of the Scan Eagle – the FAA, and other federal and international agencies. The Arctic region is the only area to date where we have authorized the use of small unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes.

With the University of Alaska test site, we will expand our knowledge. We are working to establish goals to integrate both small and larger unmanned aircraft, and to foster America’s leadership in advancing this technology.

Thank you again for coming out today to learn about the great work that’s happening in Alaska. And thank you to the FAA employees who have worked so hard to make this day happen.

I’d now like to turn it over to Ro Bailey, Director of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex.