So far in the month of August the FAA has taken at least 3 steps towards integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system.

The first step was the issuance of a Chief Counsel Opinion on August 8.  The opinion addressed whether certain documents that are required by the FARs to be kept on an aircraft may be kept at a UAS control station.  The opinion found that keeping these required documents at the control station met the intent of the applicable FARs. 

The second step is that all six of the UAS test sites are now operational.  The last test site to become operational was the largest of the test sites – Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The Virginia Polytechnic test site joins the Griffiss International Airport test site, the Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi test site, the State of Nevada test site, the University of Alaska test site, and the North Dakota Department of Commerce test site.  The Virginia Polytechnic site was issued seven two-year Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA).  The UAS models covered by these seven COAs are the Smart Road Flyer, eSPAARO, Aeryon Sky Ranger, MANTRA2, Sig Rascal, and two AVID EDF-8 micro UAS.

The research that will be done at the Virginia Polytechnic test site (which spans across three states – Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland) includes agricultural spray equipment testing, development of aeronautical procedures for integration of UAS flights in a towered airspace and developing training and operational procedures for aeronautical surveys of agriculture.

Finally, the third step toward integration was the FAA’s announcement that it was soliciting proposals from university teams to partner with it to form a new Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (COE).  According to the FAA, the new COE will be responsible for identifying current and future issues critical to safe integration of UAS into NAS.  The COE will study issues such as detect-and-avoid technology, control and communication, low-altitude operations safety, compatibility with air traffic control operations and training and certification of UAS pilots and crew members.  Notice of Intent to Submit a Proposal for the COE were due to the FAA by August 22, 2014.

While each of these steps is helpful in integrating UAS into the national air space (NAS), the FAA is being judged by many based on how quickly businesses can use UAS for commercial operations. That integration is not happening fast enough for many who see UAS as the next business boom.