Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Enter U.S. Airspace by 2015

by Matt Ball on February 8, 2012

An FAA bill that calls for the integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system now goes to the president for his signature. The rapid technological advancements brought on by widespread military use have elevated the technology to a safety level that make it an attractive option for a variety of tasks that would be too expensive, dangerous or tedious with manned aircraft. Aerial mapping will undoubtedly prove to be a major application of unmanned aircraft.

The legislation includes a Sept. 30, 2015 deadline for the integration of UAS into the national airspace. As part of the bill, the FAA will set up six UAS test sites in states that are geographically and climatically diverse, with states now vying for these sites that are bound to spur local business startups.

Small craft under 55 lbs. are prioritized in the bill, with language that allows them to fly within 27 months, and allowing them to be flown in the U.S. Arctic within one year, with flights of at least 2,000 ft. and lasting 24 hours a day. Under the bill, first responders will be allowed to fly UAS of 4.4 pounds or less within 90 days, prioritizing their assistance in saving lives and increasing public safety. The bill also exempts model aircraft that weigh less than 55lbs as long as they follow safety standards.

According to a recent industry report from IHS Jane’s, there are 50 countries that currently operate UAVs, but the United States is expected to maintain a dominance with 60 percent by 2020. The UAV market growth is largely in R&D now, given the early market stage. Most of the concept, design, development and demonstration/validation work will stem from U.S. requirements.

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