Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to modernize the National Airspace System in 2012. This modernization initiative included research and testing to integrate the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, into United States airspace.
In early 2013, the FAA announced calls for proposals regarding UAS test sites to qualified entities, including state governments and universities, and received approximately 50 entries.
Together with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and Department of Defense, the FAA has selected six facilities for research in compliance with congressional direction, including the University of Alaska Fairbanks
FAA spokesperson Less Dorr said Fairbanks was chosen because of geographic diversity and the wide range of test site locations in seven climatic zones.
The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Integration, or ACUASI, submitted the proposal and will be heading the research.
Bruce Clevenston, a drone pilot with ACUASI, said UAS are useful tools in search-and-rescue tasks, high-resolution local mapping, wildlife survey and methane concentration definition.
Unmanned aircraft systems have been operational in National Airspace since the early 1990s, with most of their use being in boarder control and security operations.
However, there are very few regulations concerning the use of UAS.
According to the Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the National Airspace System Roadmap, “The FAA is working to develop regulations, policy, procedures, guidance material, and training requirements to support safe and efficient use of UAS operations into national airspace.”
According to the FAA Roadmap, proposals for the commercial use of UAS include security awareness, disaster response including search and support to rescuers, communications and broadcast including news/sporting event coverage, cargo transport, spectral and thermal analysis, critical infrastructure modeling including power facilities, ports and pipelines, commercial photography, aerial mapping, charting and advertising.
Clevenston said, “Unmanned aircraft are useful tools when you have a person with a goal and a ground control system.”
Other test sites include the State of Nevada, New York’s Grilffliss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christie and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks will also have testing facilities in Oregon and Hawaii.