[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 47 (Friday, March 9, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14319-14321]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-5735]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Aviation Administration

14 CFR Part 91

[Docket No. FAA-2012-0252]


Unmanned Aircraft System Test Sites

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

ACTION: Request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The FAA intends to identify six test ranges/sites to integrate 
unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System 
(NAS). This pilot project is in direct response to a Congressional 
mandate. The FAA believes that designation of such UAS test sites will 
assist in the effort to safely and efficiently integrate UAS into the 
NAS and solicits feedback on this issue. This feedback will be utilized 
to help develop UAS test site requirements, designation standards, and 
oversight activity.

DATES: The FAA values the input of the UAS community at large and 
intends to incorporate ideas and suggestions into the UAS test site 
designation process. Send your comments on or before May 8, 2012.
    The FAA will also host national webinars to provide further 
information and obtain feedback regarding the six test ranges/sites. 
Additional information and frequently asked questions are available at 
www.faa.gov/.

ADDRESSES: You may send comments identified by docket number FAA-2012-
0252 using any of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your 
comments electronically.
     Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. 
Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Room W12-140, 
West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket 
Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 
New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., 
Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
     Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at 202-493-2251.
    Privacy: The FAA will post all comments it receives, without 
change, to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal 
information the commenter provides. Using the search function of the 
docket web site, anyone can find and read the electronic form of all 
comments received into any FAA dockets, including the name of the 
individual sending the comment (or signing the comment for an 
association, business, labor union, etc.). DOT's complete Privacy Act 
Statement can be found in the Federal Register published on April 11, 
2000 (65 FR 19477-19478), as well as at http://DocketsInfo.dot.gov.
    Docket: Background documents or comments received may be read at 
http://www.regulations.gov at any time. Follow the online instructions 
for accessing the docket or go to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of 
the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., 
Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 
except Federal holidays.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Richard Prosek, Manager, Unmanned 
Aircraft Program Office, Flight Standards Service, Federal Aviation 
Administration, 800 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591, call 
(202) 385-4835, facsimile (202) 385-4559, email uastestsites@faa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Background

    An unmanned aircraft is a device that is used, or is intended to be 
used, for flight in the air with no onboard pilot. These devices may be 
as simple as a light, hand launched aircraft flown within line of sight 
of the operator or as complex as a high altitude surveillance aircraft 
patrolling our nation's borders. They may be flown using a data link to 
transmit commands to the aircraft. They may perform a variety of public 
services, including: Surveillance, collection of air samples to 
determine levels of pollution, or rescue and recovery missions in 
crisis situations. They currently range in size from wingspans of six 
inches to over 240 feet; and can weigh from approximately four ounces 
to over 32,000 pounds. The one thing they have in common is that their 
numbers and uses are growing dramatically. In the United States alone, 
approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations 
are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs. 
Regulatory standards need to be developed to enable current technology 
for unmanned aircraft, and unmanned aircraft operations, to comply with 
Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Additionally, research 
needs to be performed to assess and mitigate operational safety and 
efficiency issues to enable routine UAS operations in the NAS.

Congressional Mandate Under FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

    On February 14, 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 
was signed by the President. The Act includes specific requirements for 
unmanned aerial [aircraft] systems and national airspace.
    Under H.R. 658, Section 331(c), the FAA Administrator is required 
to establish a program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the 
national airspace system at six test ranges. In establishing the 
program, the Administrator shall:
    (A) Safely designate airspace for integrated manned and unmanned 
flight operations in the national airspace system;
    (B) Develop certification standards and air traffic requirements 
for unmanned flight operations at test ranges;
    (C) Coordinate with and leverage the resources of the National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense;
    (D) Address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems;
    (E) Ensure that the program is coordinated with the Next Generation 
Air Transportation System; and
    (F) Provide for verification of the safety of unmanned aircraft 
systems and related navigation procedures before integration into the 
national airspace system. In determining the location of the 6 test 
ranges of the program, the FAA Administrator shall--
    (A) Take into consideration geographic and climatic diversity;
    (B) Take into consideration the location of ground infrastructure 
and research needs; and
    (C) Consult with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
and the Department of Defense.

[[Page 14320]]

Congressional Mandate Under National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

    On December 30, 2011, the NDAA was signed by the President. Section 
1097 includes specific requirements for unmanned aerial [aircraft] 
systems and national airspace almost identical to the language in the 
FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
    Under the NDAA, the FAA's Administrator is required to establish a 
program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national 
airspace system at six test ranges not later than 180 days after 
December 30, 2011. In establishing the program, the Administrator 
shall:
    (1) Safely designate nonexclusionary airspace for integrated manned 
and unmanned flight operations in the national airspace system;
    (2) Develop certification standards and air traffic requirements 
for unmanned flight operations at test ranges;
    (3) Coordinate with and leverage the resources of the Department of 
Defense (DoD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 
(NASA);
    (4) Address both civil and public unmanned aircraft systems;
    (5) Ensure that the program is coordinated with the Next Generation 
Air Transportation System; and
    (6) Provide for verification of the safety of unmanned aircraft 
systems and related navigation procedures before integration into the 
national airspace system.
    In determining the location of a test range the Administrator 
shall: (1) Take into consideration geographic and climatic diversity; 
(2) take into consideration the location of ground infrastructure and 
research needs; and (3) consult with DoD and NASA. A project at a test 
range (a defined geographic area where research and development are 
conducted) shall be operational no later than 180 days after the date 
the pilot project is established.
    No later than 90 days after the date of completing a pilot project, 
the Administrator shall submit a report to: the Committee on Armed 
Services, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the 
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the House of 
Representatives; and, the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee 
on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate. The report will 
include a description and assessment of the progress being made in 
establishing special use airspace to fill the immediate need of DoD.
    The program shall terminate on the date that is five years after 
the date of the enactment of this Act.

II. Discussion

    To meet the Congressional timeline and increasing demand from the 
UAS community, the FAA intends to designate UAS test sites based on 
locations/applications submitted by interested government agencies, 
private institutions and organizations. In addition to identification 
of test ranges, the airspace volume that is associated with the test 
range will need to be defined. Impact on NAS operational efficiency, 
the ability to accommodate planned and projected research missions, and 
other factors that are traditionally considered in determining flight 
test airspace will be elements of the test range airspace designation.
    The FAA will leverage test range experience from DoD and NASA in 
the designation process and subsequent oversight activities. DoD and 
NASA already have orders/directives covering the operation of their 
test ranges. DoD and NASA have indicated that, while their 
organizations are not requesting to create additional restricted 
airspace for UAS testing, they are willing to assist the FAA with this 
initiative. Appropriate guidance for test sites for civil and public 
users (States, commercial, academia, etc.) should, to the extent 
possible, be harmonized with current Federal directives.
    In February 2009, the FAA entered into a Cooperative Research and 
Development Agreement (CRDA) with a public university for collaborative 
research on UAS, and operations were authorized in June 2011. UAS 
operations are conducted under a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization 
(COA) which precludes operations for compensation or hire. A safety 
assessment process for operations was developed; and this process is 
supported by Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The objective of 
this research is to prescribe operating requirements in the NAS 
(outside of restricted and/or warning area airspace) for the purpose of 
testing, training and/or operational flights.

III. Request for Comments

    The FAA is asking the public to answer the following questions to 
help develop refined UAS test site requirements, designation standards, 
and oversight activities. The period for this request for comment has 
been limited to 60 days to ensure that the FAA is able to make informed 
decisions based on public input, while still meeting the 
Congressionally-mandated timelines. Comment size is limited to 2.5 
pages per section (A-H) with an aggregate maximum of 20 pages using 12 
point font size.
    (A) The Congressional language asks the FAA to consult with and 
leverage the resources of the DoD and the NASA in this effort. Since 
many public operators already have access to test ranges and control 
the management and use of those ranges, should the management of these 
new test ranges be held by local governments or should a private entity 
schedule and manage the airspace?
    (B) Safety of the NAS is paramount to the integration of UAS test 
sites. In the present UAS test range construct, the focus of the test 
work is at the discretion of the proponent, provided that the testing 
can be done safely. While preserving opportunities to accommodate 
unique entrepreneurial efforts, the FAA believes that the new test 
sites need to include focal points to ensure that research is 
accomplished in each of the areas identified as a major obstacle to UAS 
NAS integration. These focal areas include: UAS system safety and data 
gathering; UAS aircraft certification; UAS command and control link 
issues; UAS control station layout and certification; UAS ground and 
airborne sense and avoid research; and, any environmental impacts 
associated with the operation of UAS in the NAS. Are there other focal 
areas that need to be elevated to the stature of being a test site 
focal area?
    (C) The legislation does not contain any funding for the set-up, 
management or oversight of the test ranges. In the selection of a UAS 
test site, the FAA anticipates that proponents with existing facilities 
and infrastructure, such as operations buildings, launch facility/
runway, surveillance, monitoring and range control, would be considered 
first, followed by proponents with firm funding for facilities and 
infrastructure. Are there other overriding considerations for site 
selection?
    (D) The FAA believes that the combined capabilities of the six test 
sites should provide an environment and opportunities to test:
    (1) Conventional takeoff and landing capability,
    (2) High speed flight,
    (3) Maritime (launch/maneuver/recovery) capability,
    (4) Operations at extremely high altitudes, and
    (5) Evaluation of dissimilar aircraft in multiple altitude 
structures.
    While each site would not necessarily need to be identical, nor 
would each site need to have all five of these capabilities, the FAA 
believes that these capabilities should be present in the

[[Page 14321]]

aggregate of the six test sites. Are there any other capabilities that 
test site selection should include?
    (E) Geographical and climatic diversity are desirable traits for 
the test site location. The FAA believes that in addition to these 
traits, there are other important factors affecting siting. These 
include proximity to potential users and availability of a suitable 
ground or air transportation network. Are there other siting 
characteristics of this nature that should be considered?
    (F) The FAA believes that all UAS test site operators should be 
able and willing to demonstrate their ability and experience in 
conducting UAS operations and research. Methods that test site 
operators can use for that include: providing a detailed plan of 
operations (safety case, business case, etc.); demonstrating experience 
in managing and oversight of research and development (R&D) activities; 
and demonstrating the ability to mitigate technical and operational 
risk. Test site operators will also be responsible for ensuring that 
approval for use of any necessary frequency spectrum or transmit 
authority has been obtained. Are there other test site operator 
requirements that should be considered?
    (G) The FAA is considering utilizing the requirements contained in 
14 CFR 91.305, ``No person may flight test an aircraft except over open 
water, or sparsely populated areas, having light air traffic.'' The FAA 
also published an update to Order 8130.34A (currently Rev B) in 
November 2011, which includes language specific to flight test areas 
for experimental airworthiness operations. Should the FAA apply these 
same requirements to those seeking a UAS test site designation?
    (H) The FAA must define the airspace volume that is associated with 
the test range. How should airspace volume associated with test ranges 
be defined? Additionally, the FAA must assess the impact on NAS 
operational efficiency. How should impact to NAS efficiency be 
assessed?

IV. Conclusion

    The FAA intends to utilize public comments to meet the requirements 
spelled out in NDAA (H.R. 1540) SEC 1097 UNMANNED AERIAL SYSTEMS AND 
NATIONAL AIRSPACE (a)-(d).

    Issued in Washington, DC, on March 5, 2012.
John M. Allen,
Director, Flight Standards Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-5735 Filed 3-7-12; 4:15 pm]
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