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FAA Administrator Confident Unmanned Aircraft Deadlines Will Be Met
By Stew Magnuson

The Federal Aviation Administration must be able to accommodate unmanned aerial systems in the national airspace by 2015. The acting administrator said Aug. 7 that he was confident that this deadline will be met.

"I am very optimistic that we will get there," FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference. Congress earlier this year mandated in the agency's reauthorization legislation that small unmanned aircraft, up to 55 pounds, be fully integrated into national airspace by 2014 and the larger versions by 2015. "Rest assured that the FAA will fulfill its statutory obligations to integrate unmanned aircraft systems," he added.

It will do so in a way that promotes safety, addresses privacy concerns and fosters economic growth, he said, but added that he didn't want to understate the challenges ahead.

In terms of safety, there are a host of technical and procedural issues that must be worked out before UAVs can fly alongside manned aircraft. The three main issues that Huerta mentioned are: standardizing pilot training; making sure the aircraft can sense and avoid other aircraft and obstacles; and guaranteeing they can fly safely if their communications links are severed.

When asked what happens if the two technical issues are not resolved to the FAA's satisfaction by the congressionally mandated deadlines, Huerta declined to elaborate.

"I don't really want to speculate on hypotheticals that we won't get there because I am quite optimistic that we will," he said.

The FAA as a first step is in the process of searching for six test sites that will serve as places where it can evaluate the technologies that will allow UAVs to fly in U.S. skies.

"We expect to ask for proposals to manage these sites very soon," he said. When pressed to answer "how soon," he declined to give a date.

Photo credit: Stew Magnuson


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