In a move that could put unmanned aircraft closer to gaining access to national airspace, a couple of US senators are backing an amendment that would increase the number of test sites for such access from 4 to 10.
Specifically US Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Ron Wyden of Oregon are looking to tack on an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill that would significantly increase the number of test sites in the National Airspace System for unmanned aerial vehicles.
For more on this issue: Unmanned aircraft pose myriad problems to US airspace, GAO reports
Being New York's senator, Schumer naturally threw his support behind one such airport in particular: Syracuse's Hancock Field. According to his website, Schumer said "Hancock Field is ideally positioned to be named a test site because of its attractive air space and concentration of related high-tech firms. The Central New York region has two restricted areas, four seasons, a varied terrain, an over water range, air to ground gunnery capability and large airspace volume- all key ingredients to being chosen as a test site."
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The US Senate is now debating the FAA Reauthorization Bill now, which sets travel policy for the entire country and funds the FAA. The bill is likely to be voted on in the next few weeks. From Schumer's site: "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAV's have become an increasingly important component of US security strategy. The UAV's, sometimes called drones, are most well known for being used in Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan to target terrorists and keep American troops out of the line of fire from anti-aircraft guns. Additionally, they have been used inside the U.S. to tackle drug smuggling across the Northern Border and aid local police departments."
The idea of routinely allowing unmanned aircraft in the national airspace has been debated for a couple years now.
The Government Accountability Office in the past reported that a number of serious issues need to be addresses before drone access to US airspace should be granted. For example the GAO found:
For its part the FAA has a number of ongoing projects that are exploring the impact of drones on national airspace. Last year for example, the FAA set a two-year research and development agreement with Insitu - an independent subsidiary of Boeing and the New Jersey Air National Guard that will help FAA scientists to study and better understand unmanned aircraft design, construction and features. Researchers will also look at the differences in how an air traffic controller would manage an unmanned aircraft vs. a manned aircraft.
Also last year the FAA it opened a laboratory where scientists will use computer simulation technology explore how future systems such as unmanned aircraft and new navigation concepts will perform in the agency's future airspace structure. As part of the research, GE is working with unmanned aircraft builder, AAI to demonstrate flights with its Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft.
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