What did Congress tell the FAA to do in selecting the UAS test sites?

Two very similar laws – the National Defense Authorization Act and the FAA reauthorization — direct the FAA to establish a program that will integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system (NAS) at six test ranges. Both laws also contain a spectrum of issues the program should address, such as considering both civil and public UAS, developing certification and air traffic requirements and coordinating the program with the FAA NextGen efforts.

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What's the main goal of the test site program?

The research done at the test sites will help the FAA develop regulatory standards to foster UAS technology and operational procedures. The effort also will add to the data we need to eventually permit routine UAS operations in the NAS.

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What criteria did you use in choosing the test sites?

In selecting the six test sites, the FAA considered geographic diversity, climatic diversity, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience, risk and economic impact.

All the proposals were quality submissions, and we reviewed them very carefully. We chose the set of six proposals that best meets our research goals.

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Will states not selected to be a test range, still have opportunity to be involved as UAS integration moves forward?

Yes, states not selected for a test range can still be involved. They may partner with the selected UAS test sites or they may pursue standing up their own UAS test site. However, FAA resources will be prioritized to assist with standing up the six selected test sites first.

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What are the next steps for the test sites now that you've announced them?

We are working to have the first of the six sites operational within 180 days. These sites will promote critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate these systems into our national airspace. And we're excited about this major step forward towards expanded UAS use.

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Why are you standing them up one by one, why not do them all at once?

Since the final approval of test site operations will be based on the operator's ability to meet safety requirements, the FAA's limited resources require us to stand up the test sites sequentially vs. concurrently. The FAA will stand up the first test site within 180 days from December 30 in accordance with the 2012 Reauthorization. Remaining test sites will follow as quickly as possible.

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What is the order of standing up the test ranges?

The actual order of the test site standup is not yet finalized, but will be based in large part on the applicant's operational readiness and their ability to meet safety requirements. The applicants that are most mature and ready for operations will be stood up first.

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How long will the test ranges be in operation?

The test sites may operate until at least February 2017, per the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

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How will the FAA use the data collected at the test sites?

Relevant data from the test sites will feed into the requirements being developed to support UAS integration. This includes providing information to support development of certification procedures, airworthiness standards, operational requirements, maintenance procedures, and safety oversight activities for UAS civil applications and operations.

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How will the test sites help the FAA meet the congressional mandate for integrating UAS by September 30, 2015?

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 calls for "safe integration" of UAS by 2015. It's important to remember that integration will occur in stages. The intent of the legislation is for the FAA to have a specific plan with milestones and to show progress against these milestones.

Research findings from the six test site operators will help answer key integration-related questions, such as solutions for "detect and avoid," command and control, ground control station standards and human factors, airworthiness, lost link procedures and the interface with the air traffic control system.

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What is the FAA's budget for the Test Site Program?

The site operators and users will provide funding for their research activities. Congress has not appropriated federal funds for test site operations or research.

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Why are you requiring test site operators to have a privacy policy?

While the FAA recognizes that UAS-related privacy solutions will require a whole-government approach, the FAA also understood that moving forward with the test site selection process required us to develop a privacy approach for the operation of the sites. We believe this was a prudent approach to address privacy concerns and enabled us to move forward with the selection process.

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What are the privacy requirements for test sites?

The requirements were developed with public input and the final requirements were published on November 14, 2013 in the Federal Register. Among other requirements, test site operators must:

  • comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual's right to privacy;
  • have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention; and
  • conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.

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Do you expect to issue additional privacy guidelines for UAS use outside of the test sites?

FAA's primary mission is aviation safety. The FAA does not have legal authority to issue privacy guidelines for aircraft, nor are we seeking this authority. We are engaged in a multi-agency approach to address privacy issues outside of the UAS Test Sites.

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Is the FAA coordinating with NASA on the test site program and UAS research generally?

Yes, we're working closely with NASA.

Test Sites — We coordinated with and leveraged the resources of NASA for establishing the six test sites, per the legislative direction. Specifically, NASA assisted in the evaluation of applicant submittals.

UAS Research Generally — We have partnered with NASA to determine how UAS research, assets, and capabilities can be leveraged between our two agencies and duplication of effort can be minimized. The FAA has provided Subject Matter Experts to NASA's "UAS in the NAS" Project to review their research objectives and assumptions.

The FAA and the NASA have also provided access to each other's research information, documentation, test plans, test reports and other related UAS knowledge. Team meetings and program reviews are held on a regular basis, and an Interagency Agreement has been approved that allows the FAA to work across the NASA centers.

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