The North Dakota UAS Test Site has made a breakthrough that will greatly increase its flexibility and expand the types of projects that it can pursue. Up until now, one of the major problems facing all of the test sites has been the slow pace at which they were receiving permission to fly various makes and models of UAS and the limitations on where and how they fly. A new agreement was announced yesterday with the FAA aimed at remedying these issues.
The Northern Plains Test Site has been granted a new Certificate of Authorization (COA) by the FAA that covers almost all of Northeastern North Dakota. According to the test site’s press release, the move was the result of a recognition of the “maturity and demonstrated safety and operational processes used by the Northern Plains UAS Test Site.”
On an operational level, it appears that the Test Site will be able to:
individually activate defined operational areas within this COA based on industry needs. These defined operational areas will follow the existing notification processes, which include utilization of the FAA’s Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) system, community outreach and scheduling directly with local airspace users. All flight operations will be conducted by FAA-rated pilots and under Visual Flight Rules.
In addition, according to a separate FAA press release, the agency has worked out a new streamlined process with the Test Site that will allow it to add new types of UAS to its operational authority.
This move is definitely a win-win situation for everyone. It gives the test sites the flexibility to forge useful partnerships with industry to conduct the widest array of research possible, and it gives the FAA a greater pool of operations from which to draw useful data that will aid UAS integration. No doubt the other UAS test sites will be jealously watching this development and move as quickly as possible to work out similar arrangements with the FAA.
(Originally posted February 11, 2015)