UVU bidding to own the skies: Aviation department heads alliance to become FAA test facility for domestic drone use

By Jonathan Boldt

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 9:40 a.m. MDT

In this Jan. 8, 2009, photo provided by the Mesa County, Colo., Sheriff's Department, a small Draganflyer X6 drone makes a test flight in Mesa County, Colo. with a Forward Looking Infrared payload. The drone, which was on loan to the sheriff's department from the manufacturer, measures about 36 inches from rotor tip to rotor tip, weights just over two pounds.

Mesa County Sheriff's Unmanned Operations Team, Associated Press

OREM — The Federal Aviation Administration is pushing for institutions to bid on becoming training sites for a congressionally mandated test facility that will develop future regulations on the domestic and civilian use of drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems.

There will be six test facilities in different locations, and Utah Valley University is headlining an alliance with an aggressive bid that will be awarded this summer.

The dean of the college of Aviation and Public Services Wayne Dornan, Ph.D, is excited to be on the forefront of the rapidly changing field of aviation and spoke out on the attempt to secure a spot as one of the few test facilities to develop regulations on the private, domestic and military use of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The alliance that we have formed to go after this test facility is called the Mountain West Unmanned Systems Alliance or MWUSA. It’s comprised of universities who are doing research and development on UAS and private industry as well. UVU is the lead institution so we will be the ones that are guiding all of this, so we are pretty excited about it,” Dornan said.

“The FAA is going to award six test facilities in the United States, only six. We are going to try real hard to be one of those centers and what that is, is the FAA by 2018 wants to integrate, or has been mandated by congress to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System. They want to do this in a safe way, so these six test facilities will provide the FAA with research on the safe integration into NAS,” Dornan said.

Whether Americans are ready for it or not, UAS is already a part of daily life and will not be going anywhere any time soon.

“This is a virtual tsunami about to happen, the integration of UAS into NAS is one of the most important things to happen in aviation since the Wright brothers. That’s how critical this is because this is going to change how we think about aviation,” Dornan said.

Public perception of the capabilities that these unmanned aircraft possess and the potential for invasion of personal privacy are two of the obstacles the institution is facing.

“In the unmanned industry, we don’t like the d–word (drones),” Dornan said. “The d–word has all these negative connotations to it, and that’s not what unmanned aerial systems is about. The people who are in the industry, the people who are doing research and development call it unmanned aircraft or aerial systems.”

According to Dornan, surveillance is not even a topic of discussion.

“People in the business, people in the know, never use the d-word,” Dornan said. “In all the discussions we have about where this is going with UAS’s in the future, the s–word (surveillance) has never come up either. Those are the two things that the lay people think ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a drone and they’re going to be doing surveillance and spying on me’, in all the discussions I’ve had about UAS’s, the s–word has never come up.”

In a field that is changing so rapidly technologically, keeping regulations up to speed could be a stumbling block. But with the carte blanche awarded them by Congress, the FAA is poised to set the bar and the rules for the industry.

“The FAA is the one that’s going to be regulating all this stuff,” Dornan said. “They have been mandated by Congress to make this happen and they want the safe integration of UAS into NAS, so I don’t think they will be dragging their feet because they have a congressional mandate to get this done.”

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