Update: On May 13, 2015 the FAA selected Mississippi State’s proposal and established it as the head of the UAS Center of Excellence. Additional details can be found on the FAA’s press release.
It’s May – How much longer do we have to wait?
Last August, the Federal Aviation Administration issued their final solicitation for Center of Excellence (COE) requests. The deadline for submissions was September 15, 2014 and it is estimated that nearly every state in the nation applied to host the UAS COE site.
It has now been almost eight months and there has been no announcement of a “winner”, or even finalists.
To be fair to the FAA, some of these proposals are likely very lengthy. According to the solicitation, the “Proposal” portion of the submission has a 60-page limit. It’s possible many pitches reached this limit. Other sections such as “Certifications and Declarations” have no page limit.
The FAA took 10 months to decide on its six UAS test sites, which received only 25 proposals. It is assumed the COE received more than 25 requests, as this distinction would greatly enhance the UAS-related industry in that area.
But if the FAA is prioritizing the establishment of UAS regulations, awarding this COE should be a top priority. The NPRM issued a few months ago bought the FAA some time, but it also showed how far the FAA is from making concrete rulings. By establishing a COE it can pass on some of the testing and regulation creation to the site.
The recent influx of 333 exemptions granted has also put the FAA in a better light, but the matter still stands that these companies are focusing on UAS as it applies to their business before focusing on UAS as it applies to the nation.
While we focus on the growing trend of UAS, we must also remember that the FAA deals with more than just unmanned aircraft issues. It has somewhat of a justification for the delay in a COE announcement, but this immense amount of work to be done also shows why having a COE is so important to the administration.
Being awarded a COE would be a major coup for any state, and the FAA needs to act sooner rather than later instead of teasing the applicants. The faster it moves on this issue, the quicker other UAS-initiatives can pick up.
To keep up with FAA news regarding the COE, keep an eye out for a press release on their announcements page.
Gavin Holdgreiwe | Unmanned Systems Institute