McCarthy urges FAA to release UAV site requirements

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

McCarthy urges FAA to release UAV site requirementsRep. Kevin McCarthy signed a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging it to move forward on its directive to name six test sites to integrate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into federal airspace.

Among the concerns outlined in the letter to Michael Huerta, acting administrator of the FAA, was the agency’s failure to adhere to the 180-day deadline for site selection mandated by Congress.

The FAA had originally stated it would identify criteria for those sites and release an official request for proposal by July 20. That RFP was never released. And conjecture is that it will not happen until after the general election in November.

“With no official request for proposals, we share a growing concern over the FAA’s ability to meet its projected December deadline and lend our legislative support to you and your staff in your integration efforts,” states the letter signed by McCarthy and several of his colleagues.

A second area of concern, states the letter, related to the FAA’s ability to leverage Department of Defense and NASA “to aid in the safe and expedited integration of UAS.”

McCarthy was in Ridgecrest last week to attend fundraisers for China Lake Alliance Director Mick Gleason, who is in a run-off with Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield to represent East Kern County as 1st District Supervisor.

McCarthy told his listeners that during his visit he was briefed on the initiative for a local solution, which includes Inyokern. He commented favorably on Inyokern’s chance of being selected as such a site.

Eileen Shibley, alliance boardmember and chair of the IYK committee steering the UAV effort, has been presenting the committee’s progress to local stakeholders, most recently on Eric Kauffman’s morning radio show on the Coyote.

Shibley told Kauffman that when the alliance first heard of the directive six months ago, members began collecting data to determine if any local sites would be a candidate for what is anticipated to be a very competitive selection process.

“We did a little SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis of what each site brings to the table, and from that we think that Inyokern would be perfect,” said Shibley.

Before retiring from China Lake, Shibley headed the unmanned systems organization. She said over the last 10 years the burgeoning industry — once a strictly military operation — has branched out in ever more civilian applications from law enforcement to firefighting to mail delivery.

But so far, the only regulation available to the private sector is the acquisition of a waiver — good for one craft only — that will allow flight in federal airspace. The FAA directive is Congress’ response to the industrial push for formal regulation.

Shibley said that although the FAA has given few hints about what it will look for in a test site, among the priorities outlined by congress are the need for diversity in both climate and terrain, open space and cooperation with DOD and NASA to ensure that sites do not jeopardize current missions.

The IYK committee includes airport board leadership as well as liaisons from China Lake.

“In the process I also met Scott Seymour, and I’m telling you we are so lucky to have him as the CEO and manager of the Inyokern Airport,” Shibley told Kauffman. “He has a vision and an idea of what needs to happen, and he, along with the board, embraced the idea of going forward with this proposal the first time they heard about it.”

Shibley said that the concept of the proposal establishes IYK as the center of a multi-airport complex covering much of the aerospace corridor and incorporating desert, mountain and maritime environments. She continues to promote the plan and network with potential partners throughout the region.

“We have been talking to as many as we can to gauge interest,” she said. “From our perspective, these will all be business decisions. We want to know what industry is looking for so we can find out how to better serve those interests.”

So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, she said.

“We are very confident that, if the selection is based on technical merit, we would be a shoo-in,” said Shibley. “My view is that it won’t necessarily come down to that. We can’t take anything for granted.”

The fact that most official support is being withheld pending the FAA’s announcement just makes the wait for formal requirements that much more anticipated, she said.

Story First Published: 2012-08-22