Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that they would be seeking public input for the proposal of six new Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) test sites. While many of us thought we would never see the day, the age of unmanned aircraft sharing the same sky with us is on the horizon and approaching quickly.
Formally, unmanned aircraft systems have been solely a component of military operations. However, in the recent years the use and efficiency of these aircrafts have been examined for many different uses, ranging from aerial photography, land surveying, monitoring environmental conditions, to law enforcement and protecting borders. A great deal of the push to investigate the possibility of UAS comes from the potential lower operating costs and increased efficiency.
In addition to the obvious privacy concerns, many are concerned about the safety of these aircraft. There is much speculation and concern about the hazards these machines pose to manned aircraft, aircraft with passengers, and the safety of people and property on the ground.
As the aircraft will be remotely piloted and controlled from the ground, it still does not contain the competence of detecting and avoiding potential accidents that a pilot in the cockpit would be able to visually identify. Alternately, the unmanned aircraft can also be programmed to complete the entire flight on its own without assistance or intervention. The vast array of things that could potentially go wrong must be considered. This understandably may make the public feel uneasy and create a great deal of opposition to the progression of these systems.
While technological advancement can have many beneficial aspects, there is an unfortunate truth that many monumental innovations in history have come at with a high cost, and in some cases the ultimate cost of human life. Integration of these systems into the National Airspace System (NAS) is something that is proving to be very complicated, and therefore must be carefully planned and carried out.
According to the FAA, as part of the plan to address many safety concerns about adding these aircraft into the NAS, these proposed test facilities are designed to address the following things:
- Safely designate airspace for integrated manned and unmanned flight operations in the national airspace system
- Develop certification standards and air traffic requirements for unmanned flight operations at test ranges
- Coordinate with and leverage the resources of the NASA and the Department of Defense
- Address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems
- Ensure that the program is coordinated with the Next Generation Air Transportation System
- Ensure the safety of unmanned aircraft systems and related navigation procedures before they are integrated into the national airspace system
The FAA has asked for public input regarding determinations of whether there will be public or private site management, the parameters of research activities and capabilities of the test areas, the requirements for test site operators, and the geographic and climate factors that should contribute to the planning and placement of these sites. After comments have been heard and considered, final proposals for each site will be created. Each site is not expected to be identical and will accommodate and gather data from the conditions specific to its area. The FAA plans to select the sites in late 2012 and plans for the first site to be operational in 2013. They currently have one test site at New Mexico State University, which has been operational since June 2011.
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