The FAA recently announced the congressionally-mandated research and test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”). The test site operators selected by the FAA are:
The University of Alaska;
The state of Nevada;
Griffiss International Airport (RME) (New York);
The North Dakota Department of Commerce;
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi; and
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
In announcing its selections, the FAA stated that “each test site operator will manage the test site in a way that will give access to parties interested in using the site.” However, the agency has yet to announce rules or procedures by which it will ensure that UAS will avoid and not enter the same airspace as manned aircraft, or whether UAS operating at these test sites will meet the same certification and airworthiness standards as manned aircraft.
In a recent legal opinion, the FAA clarified its position on FAR 91.126 regarding turns on approach to an airport in uncontrolled airspace. In response to an inquiry regarding whether the regulations authorized turns to the right in the vicinity of uncontrolled airports, the FAA concluded that a pilot approaching to land at an uncontrolled airport may make right turns if approved light signals or ground markings indicate that right turns are required, or if such deviation is “authorized or required”. However, such authorized or required deviations are rarely appropriate under the regulations. The FAA stated that the phrase “authorized or required” itself does not give pilots the discretion to deviate from FAR 91.126. Such deviation must be “authorized or required” by the approach guidelines of a specific airport or by another FAA regulation. For example, § 91.3(b) authorizes the pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft to deviate from any rule of part 91 to the extent necessary to resolve “an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action.” Such a decision to deviate is within the PIC’s judgment, however, this determination must be made in good faith based on safety concerns and not convenience.
In a recent proposal, the FAA set forth its plan to take back a Class C airspace exclusion extending from the surface up to 2,400 feet MSL, which extends in a 1.5 NM radius around the former Cornelia Fort Airpark. Although Cornelia ceased operations last year, the Class C exclusion remains approximately 4 NM north of Nashville International Airport (KBNA). The only reason cited by the FAA for removing the Class C airspace exclusion is that “it would restore the Class C surface area to the standard configuration of a 5 NM radius around Nashville International Airport and would enhance the management of aircraft operations at the airport.” However, the FAA failed to cite any current issue with the management of aircraft around KBNA which would necessitate removing the current exclusion. Public comments regarding this proposal must be received by April 1, 2013.