UAS: Congress to FAA on Center for Excellence “You Got Our Vote . . . . For Now”

The FAA’s decision to create a UAS Center for Excellence got a major boost this week from the United States Senate.  At the end of May, the FAA released a draft solicitation for the creation of a UAS Center for Excellence.  The Center is intended:

to forge a union of public sector (FAA, NASA, DOD, state/local governments, etc.), private sector, and academic institutions to create a world‐class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated UAS related issues.

The center will provide matching federal grants to fund research needed to speed integration of UAS into the national air space.  The FAA has identified seven areas it is particularly interested in:

  1. Air Traffic Control Interoperability
  2. Airport Ground Operations
  3. Control and Communication
  4. Detect and Avoid (DAA)
  5. Human Factors
  6. Spectrum Management
  7. Unmanned Aircraft (UA) Crew Training and Certification, Including Pilots.

The FAA had requested $1 million in funding for the new Center for Excellence.  The United States Senate Appropriations Committee not only approves of the FAA’s initiative, they think it does not go far enough.  The Committee nearly doubled the FAA’s UAS R&D budget, and they also directed that the FAA spend $5 million to create and fund the Center.  In addition to the seven areas of research identified by the FAA, the Senate directs the FAA to pay particular attention to issues of cyber security and its impact on future UAS operations.

The Committee also, however, criticized the FAA’s overall approach to UAS research.  In particular, the Committee feels that the FAA has not set a comprehensive strategy for how the research at its six UAS test sites will actually further UAS integration into the National Airspace.  The Committee expressed a hope that the center for excellence will aid the FAA in creating a more comprehensive R&D strategy and provide a better opportunity for project coordination.

This appears to be one of those rare situations where government works as it is intended.  An agency comes up with a good idea for a public/private partnership, the Congress supports the idea and tells the agency to run with it, and also gives concrete guidance on how to make the project better and more productive.  It will be interesting to see whether this provision ultimately makes its way to the President’s desk for signing.

(Originally posted on June 9, 2014)

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