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Treadwell Champions Alaska as Arctic Proving Ground for UAS

September 27, 2012, Anchorage, AK – Alaska has prime airspace to prove civil applications for unmanned aerial systems (UAS), Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell told a group of UAS stakeholders from across the country gathered in Anchorage to talk about UAS technology in Alaska.

“Alaska’s extreme and ever-changing environment can put these systems to the test,” Treadwell said, “and the technology, along with our university’s new supercomputer, can show how unmanned aircraft can support Arctic science, help manage natural resources and respond to emergency situations.”

“As the test site for the nation’s next generation of air traffic control, Alaska already has a history in proving aviation safety systems,” Treadwell said. By integrating UAS with Alaska’s advanced safety technology, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can expand ways to ensure that aviators and drone operators can see and avoid each other.

“The synergy between the two technologies here in Alaska keeps us on the cutting edge of aerospace development,” Treadwell said. “An investment of $5 million approved by Gov. Sean Parnell this year to further the University of Alaska’s UAS research helps, too.”

Federal law requires the FAA to integrate UAS into the national airspace by 2015. That same law requires the FAA to establish permanent areas of Arctic airspace for research and commercial flights by unmanned aircraft, and to select six UAS test sites nationwide. Alaska is poised to compete for test site selection, and is awaiting the FAA’s request for proposal (RFP), which was due last month.

As chair of the Aerospace States Association (ASA) – an organization of U.S. lieutenant governors who promote aerospace industry, education and workforce development – Treadwell wrote to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Sept. 21, urging him to act swiftly to accept applications from states that are ready to provide test-beds.

“With a growing demand for UAS technology from a wide range of sectors including public safety, agriculture, energy and others, charting a course toward the safe and responsible civil and commercial use of UAS in our national airspace is a crucial step for maintaining [the nation’s] competitive advantage,” Treadwell said in the letter.

In his Anchorage keynote Wednesday, Treadwell acknowledged that delays have arisen from privacy concerns by Congress, many of which stem from a negative perception of military drones as used in the war on terror.

“Citizens who may be suspicious that these systems will allow ‘Big Brother’ to watch them need strict guarantees that privacy and liberty will be respected,” Treadwell said. “But UAS technology offers immense benefits to these same citizens to protect them from wildfires, fall sea storms, ice floes and flooding hazards. UAS technology can save lives.”

Treadwell welcomed the director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, James Williams from Washington, D.C., and met with him to further discuss UAS integration and privacy concerns. The lieutenant governor promised to raise the issue with other aerospace state leaders to consider how state laws on privacy can help protect citizens’ rights as technology development moves forward.

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