Nevada UAS Test Site Initiatives
As the UAS industry has evolved so have the objectives of the Nevada UAS test site. Summarized below are some of the key initiatives for the period.
- The Nevada UAS Test Site began to plan, analyze, and begin to build the first Nevada UAS Test Site BVLOS air corridor to support the NASA UTM mission in Northern Nevada and second to extend this air corridor, by phase, eventually connecting Reno, Nevada to Las Vegas, Nevada along the western state boundary. Nevada personnel, along with its Nevada Airport partners, have completed or partially the COAs or LOAs to bring the Nevada BVLOS from concept to operational reality. The Nevada UAS Test Site developed the hypothesis that integrating all existing operating locations into an overarching strategic objective would present a highly viable option for customers to use Nevada as a UAS testing and training choice over other locations offering the allure of a BVLOS range. A BVLOS air range opens-up the potential to conduct rail, high tension power line, mines, and burrow pit testing, training, and real mission survey/inspection opportunities to name a few that don’t otherwise exist within the scope of visual UAS flight opportunities. Building a Nevada BVLOS also allows the possibility of urban package delivery and other long-haul UAS industry requirements to be filled by larger UAS capable platforms in Nevada. The initial phase of the Nevada BVLOS is to partner with NASA to satisfy BVLOS UTM testing out of Reno-Stead Airport later in CY16. Within the scope of this objective, NIAS seeks ways to assist the FAA efforts to refine and streamline the Test Site COA and LOA application process. The Nevada personnel continues to work with municipalities, airport managers, and other entities to finalize operating location agreements with numerous rural airports in order to have access to the property, standardize insurance requirements, and gather information on support capabilities.
- Develop airspace for greater R&D testing flexibility, accommodation of UAS Class III and above, and develop airspace partnerships with governmental entities, defense contracting companies, and the DoD. The Nevada Test Site made significant efforts to engage Nevada teammates, potential customers, and government entities to investigate airspace regions that would facilitate a variety of applications and lay the ground work for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) UAS flight operations. The Nevada UAS Test Site has ten active COAs approved including three nationwide blanket FAA COAs giving the Nevada Test Site a menu of options under which to conduct testing and development in the Class I and II UAS categories; however, all COAs are limited to visual line of sight operations leaving a vast unmet demand in the BVLOS air operations sector. Operationally, the entire State of State is the FAA-designated UAS Test Site.
- Counter UAS (cUAS) is a growing industry segment and focus for Nevada UAS test site. NIAS is collaborating with several cUAS companies to test new technology. The cUAS industry is gaining interest as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opens up the sky to public and commercial drone operators. Recently, the FAA and NIAS, teamed together with Northern Plains UAS to test counter UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) technology at the Denver International Airport. The teams operated a dozen small fixed-wing and multi-rotor drones during the ground detection system testing.
COA Flight Summary
During 2015, the FAA online reporting system recorded sixty-six (66) COA flights for the Nevada UAS Test Site. However, the combined COA flights of 2015 and 2016 totals 769 through October and on track to surpass 850 by the end of 2016. The Nevada UAS Test Site flew air missions under multiple UAS R&D categories and flight profiles including UAS night operations, extended visual lines of operation, and survey data collection on infrastructure, wildlife, powerlines, and rail lines. The Nevada UAS Test Site goal is to achieve a 25 to 50% Q/Q improvement in completed air operations embedding the FAA’s Safety Management System and culture of safety into every company/entity we test and develop.
The Nevada UAS Test Site has continued to grow the Nevada UAS Industry through multiple lines of operation. New testing and developmental profiles and survey operations included advanced package delivery, energy powerline and agricultural surveys, and an enhanced process for conducting airworthiness assessments. Operations over people, expanded operations (i.e., EVLOS and BVLOS), non-segregated operations, and small cargo/passenger operations are FAA directed 3rd Quarter and beyond discussion areas. Nevada has extended UAS flight operations into California, Washington, Florida and Colorado. The increased UAS flight activity produces critical FAA lessons learned and flight data for future regulatory change and procedural collaboration. Nevada’s future high operational tempo will continue to drive a collaborative and strong operational testing resource environment between the FAA and the Nevada UAS Test Site. With the recent Part 107 activation and the signing of the FAA Reauthorization Act combined will produce positive future developments for Nevada and the FAA UAS Industry growth. Nevada Personnel will continue to work through the challenges and enhance the UAS Test Site value and future contribution as a highly effective and operational arm and primary FAA R&D partner to enable simplified and safe UAS integration into the NAS. The Nevada UAS Test Site enables the UAS Industry and the FAA a ready valuable resource to mature the FAA’s full integration of Unmanned Aviation into the National Airspace. while setting the conditions to help facilitate future innovative industry growth. Nevada is on a positive path to posture the State of Nevada UAS industry and its resources as the global location of choice for unmanned testing and training, R&D, and public and commercial unmanned aviation projects and flight missions.
On behalf of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, a non-profit corporation, leads the growth of the Nevada Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Industry through business teaming relationships, collaboration with primary research institutions, and helping enhance the UAS industry knowledge base in order to attract new and permanent business within the State of Nevada. The NIAS mission is to coach, teach, and mentor public and commercial UAS companies as well as their staff to develop advanced and innovative UAS applications, procedures, techniques, and technologies to facilitate safe integration into the NAS as mandated by Congress. NIAS has the unique mission to plan and execute UAS flights in collaboration with Nevada teammates, collect FAA flight performance data, and develop enhanced National Airspace safety control measures. NIAS recommends unmanned aviation lessons learned to the FAA and NASA.