Politicians Publicly Lobby Administration to Select Mid-Atlantic Region as UAS Test Range - Southern Maryland Headline News

Politicians Publicly Lobby Administration to Select Mid-Atlantic Region as UAS Test Range


WASHINGTON (February 8, 2012) – U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) along with Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) today sent a joint letter to the Secretaries of Defense, Transportation and the NASA Administrator urging them to select the Virginia/Maryland region to host an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) test range. The Senators pointed out that similar design and testing of unmanned aircraft systems already takes place in the area, and the region has the appropriate airspace and test ranges for the type of advanced testing and development that will be required.

The National Defense Authorization Act and FAA Reauthorization Bill, both adopted by Congress in recent weeks, require the Federal Aviation Administration to identify six test ranges for UAS testing and development within 180 days, and incorporate airspace for military, commercial and privately-owned UAS by the Fall of 2015.

“The congressional intent … is clear: utilize existing facilities and range space. There is no accompanying appropriation to establish this program, nor should there be because the facilities and test ranges already exist,” the Senators wrote. “There is no reason to create additional restricted airspace, a lengthy process, or to construct additional range infrastructure, given the significant investment already made in the Maryland-Virginia region.”

The Senators point that Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River has supported the testing of nearly every type of UAS in service today. In addition, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore has robust existing infrastructure including a UAS runway, launch range, an aeronautical research airport, UAS hangar space and radar facilities. NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, already conducts advanced joint research on UAS systems with the FAA, and adjacent Langley Air Force Base has refined the process of collecting sensor data from UAS systems and serves as a key operational hub for the Air Force. Finally, the nonprofit National Institute of Aerospace research facility in Hampton has long-term relationships with many of the most highly acclaimed aerospace-related academic institutions and experts in the region and across the county.

“In today’s fiscally constrained budget environment, the integration of our states’ existing facilities will lower FAA’s risk and costs by eliminating the need to create additional restricted airspace and to build new infrastructure. A Mid-Atlantic UAS Test Range will meet the timelines established in the Act and satisfy the imperative of immediately identifying qualified personnel to execute the program successfully,” the Senators concluded.

On Jan. 20, 2012, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sent a similar joint letter to the Transportation Secretary noting the high level of bipartisan collaboration among the region’s elected leaders in efforts to establish a test range for both military and nonmilitary uses of unmanned aircraft.

Source: Office of B. Mikulski

Full text of Jan. 20, 2012 letter from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley

Dear:

As the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to implement the provisions in the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act related to the integration of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) into the national airspace system, we encourage you to consider the advantages offered by the establishment of a Mid-Atlantic UAS Test Range in the Maryland-Virginia region.

The NDAA stipulates that the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall establish a program to integrate UAS into the national airspace system at six UAS test ranges within 180 days of enactment. Additionally, Section 1097 of the NDAA requires the FAA to coordinate with and leverage the resources of the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and to consider the location of ground infrastructure and research needs. The congressional intent of Section 1097 is clear. Utilize existing facilities and range space. There is no accompanying appropriation to establish this program, nor should there be because the facilities and test ranges already exist. The short period of time to implement the program encourages the use of existing and proven test ranges, infrastructure, and personnel. Congress has provided additional guidance with the recent passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which directs the FAA to provide UAS with expanded access to the national airspace system by Sept. 30, 2015. With President Obama expected to sign that legislation into law any day, selection of these UAS test ranges becomes even more important to ensure we are adequately prepared to meet the goals of this accelerated timeline.

The Maryland and Virginia congressional delegations, our governors, and our communities are collaborating to highlight key components of a Mid-Atlantic Test Range that satisfy new statutory provisions. Specifically, we note that the Act calls for the establishment of “test ranges,” not merely “test sites.” Existing Atlantic test ranges offer more than 2,700 square miles of FAA restricted airspace. An additional 30,000 square miles of highly-instrumented Special Use Airspace exist over the Atlantic Ocean. There is no reason to create additional restricted airspace, a lengthy process, or to construct additional range infrastructure, given the significant investment already made in the MD-VA region. For example, the Naval Air Systems Command’s Atlantic Test Ranges command at Patuxent River, MD, already control fully instrumented and integrated test ranges that provide full-service support for cradle-to-grave aerial testing.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River has supported nearly every type of UAS in service today. Today, FAA air controllers coordinate with DoD controllers to operate Global Hawk, Shadow, and Firescout UAS in real-world operations. The NASA Wallops Flight Facility has existing infrastructure including a UAS runway, launch range, an aeronautical research airport, UAS hangar space, and radar facilities. Firescout operations at nearby Webster Field rely on cutting edge sense-and-avoid systems. The NASA Langley Research Center conducts joint research on UAS systems with the FAA, and Langley Air Force Base has refined the process of collecting sensor data from UAS systems. Finally, the National Institute of Aerospace has long-term relationships with many of the most highly acclaimed aerospace-related academic institutions in the region and across the county.

We urge you to consider the benefits of establishing a Mid-Atlantic UAS Test Range as the FAA develops its selection process. Our region offers the world-class facilities, supporting systems, and controlled airspace necessary to satisfy the requirements of the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act. In today’s fiscally constrained budget environment, the integration of our states’ existing facilities will lower FAA’s risk and costs by eliminating the need to create additional restricted airspace and to build new infrastructure. A Mid-Atlantic UAS Test Range will meet the timelines established in the Act and satisfy the imperative of immediately identifying qualified personnel to execute the program successfully.

We look forward to working with you in the coming months as FAA moves toward site selection and thank you for your consideration of a Mid-Atlantic Test Range in the Maryland-Virginia Region.

Sincerely,

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