FAA looks to create Center of Excellence for drone research

Now that the Federal Aviation Administration has opened all of its unmanned aircraft systems test sites, the agency will attempt to increase its information-gathering capability by partnering with universities to create a UAS center of excellence.

The agency released a final solicitation notice last week that said the agency plans to establish the COE in fiscal year 2015, beginning October 1.

According to the solicitation, the FAA will fund the COE through sharing the costs among universities, industry and government.

“Our purpose is to forge a union of public sector, private sector and academic institutions to create a world-class consortium that will identify solutions for existing and anticipated UAS related issues,” the solicitation said. “The FAA expects the COE to perform short- and long-term basic and applied research through a variety of analyses, development and prototyping activities.”


Higher education institutions must declare their intent to submit a proposal to be considered for the COE by Friday. After that, universities will have until Sept. 9 to submit any questions about the process to the FAA. All proposal submissions will be due Sept. 15.

The COE, similar to the agency’s official UAS test sites, will identify the issues that are most important to the FAA’s goal of integrating UAS into the national airspace as required by Congress under the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. The COE’s creation, however, was required after the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.

Although the test sites will primarily focus on the study of flight research, the COE will focus on the technology aspects of integrating UAS safely into the national airspace.

“The new COE will be tasked with identifying current and future issues critical to safe integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace,” the FAA said in a release. “The COE will study several technical issues critical to successful UAS integration, including detect-and-avoid technology, control and communications, low-altitude operations safety, compatibility with air traffic control operations and training and certification of UAS pilots and other crew members.”

The selected home for the COE will receive a minimum of $500,000 per year in FAA funding. The agency plans to support the program throughout the next 10 years despite the 2015 integration deadline.


According to the release, universities will be required to match the federal grants equally with money not provided by the federal government.

The exact relationship between the COE and the six UAS test sites is unknown, the release said; however, once the COE is selected, that partnership will be determined. Theoretically, Virginia Tech would be able to petition to host a COE, while the university also holds a certificate from the FAA as a test site. Virginia Tech did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

In the release, the FAA said it could advance UAS by bringing the educational, private sector and federal government together in one collaborative place.

“Like university think-tank partnerships, the agency’s Centers of Excellence bring the best minds in the nation together to conduct research, to educate and to train, and work with the FAA toward solutions for aviation-related challenges,” the release said.

Jake Williams

Written by Jake Williams

Jake Williams is a Staff Reporter for FedScoop and StateScoop. At StateScoop, he covers the information technology issues and events at state and local governments across the nation. In the past, he has covered the United States Postal Service, the White House, Congress, cabinet-level departments and emerging technologies in the unmanned aircraft systems field for FedScoop. Before FedScoop, Jake was a contributing writer for Campaigns & Elections magazine. He has had work published in the Huffington Post and several regional newspapers and websites in Pennsylvania. A northeastern Pennsylvania native, Jake graduated magna cum laude from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, or IUP, in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in political science. At IUP, Jake was the editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Penn, and the president of the university chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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