ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial, Military, Unmanned

FAA Streamlining Process for UAS Airspace Access

By Tish Drake | May 15, 2012
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FAA is working to streamline the permitting process for operators of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to gain access to the National Airspace System (NAS), a milestone under the recently passed FAA reauthorization.

Federal, state and local government entities must obtain an FAA Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) before flying UAS in the NAS. Now, under the FAA Reauthorization bill, the agency must to find a way to expedite that COA process within 90 days of enactment, which is May 14, 2012. Streamlining the COA process is the first step to integration UASs into the NAS by 2015, as mandated under the FAA Reauthorization legislation. Civilian operators have said they are not able to get access to the NAS, which does not allow them to safely test and operate the systems. More

The UAS Executive Committee, which was formed in 2009 and includes representatives from FAA, NASA, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, issued a series of recommendations, implemented by FAA, that include establishing metrics for tracking COAs throughout the process and improving the on-time rate for granting an authorization. The agency also developed an automated, web-based process to streamline steps and ensure a COA application is complete and ready for review. The agency already has expedited procedures in place to grant one-time COAs for time-sensitive emergency missions such as disaster relief and humanitarian efforts. Starting on March 29, 2012, FAA introduced another improvement by changing the length of authorization from the current 12-month period to 24 months. If the FAA disapproves a COA, the agency quickly addresses questions from the applicant and tries to provide alternative solutions that will lead to approval.

FAA said it has received more than 200 comments after asking for public input on the process for selecting six UAS test sites mandated by Congress. In July, the agency expects to request proposals to manage the test sites in order to make the selections in December. These sites are important because they will provide valuable data to us safely integrate UAS into the nation's airspace by 2015 as required by the 2012 FAA reauthorization.

Later this year, FAA said it expects to release a proposed rule that will establish policies, procedures and standards for a wide spectrum of users in the small UAS community. This class of UAS will likely experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses.

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