Recently, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced legislation to boost UAS research and development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) technologies at the nation’s UAS test sites. Established through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, these sites are aimed at providing “verification of the safety of public and civil UAS, operations, and related navigation procedures before their integration into the national airspace system (NAS).”

There are currently seven UAS test sites in the US:

The introduction of the Warner/Hoeven bill comes at a time of increased focus on furthering uncrewed technology in the US. For example, in February, Warner joined Senator John Thune (R-SD) to put forward the “Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023.” That bill would revamp the process for acquiring waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for drone flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Also, last month, Lisa Ellman, Executive Director of the Commercial Drone Alliance (CDA), testified before the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on the need for increased investment in UAS technology. She explained how federal investment in UAS research and development could help the country maintain its leadership position in the field of advanced aviation and provide numerous benefits to society.

In introducing the new bill, Warner said, “Unmanned Aerial Systems have the potential to transform the way we manage disasters, maintain our infrastructure, administer medicine, tackle national security threats, and conduct day-to-day business.”

Specifically, the proposed bill:

  • Extends the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) UAS test sites for an additional five years through 2028;
  • Formally authorizes research grants through the FAA for the purpose of demonstrating or validating technology related to the integration of UAS in the national airspace system (NAS);
  • Requires a grant recipient to have a contract with an FAA UAS test site;
  • Identifies key research priorities, including: detect and avoid capabilities; beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations; operation of multiple unmanned aircraft systems; unmanned systems traffic management; command and control; and UAS safety standards.

The newly proposed bill—along with recent legislative action and testimony—points both to ongoing interest in boosting uncrewed technology in the US and the need for congressional action to ensure that these systems deliver benefits to society.

As Ellman told Congress in March, “Bold and innovative congressional leadership is therefore necessary once again to spur progress for scalable UAS operations and their integration into the NAS for the benefit of the American public. Research and development has a critical role to play in enabling implementation of future UAS capabilities and in advancing AAM and drone security technologies.”