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The following comments are presented regarding the March 13 news article that reported on local efforts to seek FAA selection as one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems.

The FAA has issued a Screening Information Request, a 70-page document that outlines the application and compliance requirements for a test site. If the proposed local test site is the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport, the feasibility of this site is very questionable.

For example, the test site’s airspace must be within domestic airspace and must not include, or abut, any Class B airspace. To the northwest of the county airport the Andrew’s Air Force Base Class B airspace extends to approximately Charlotte Hall, and the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area/Flight Restricted Zone extends to approximately Mechanicsville. To the east of the county airport, the military restricted area extends to approximately Route 4, about one mile from the airport. Therefore, the presumably available domestic airspace for the proposed UAS test site appears to extend only 10-15 miles in a sector west of the airport.

This area is also used for aircraft approaches and departures at the county airport, and by a north-south, low-altitude, Victor Airways route, which presents a safety risk for manned aircraft in the test site airspace. There is also the concern for the safety and protection of persons and property on the ground underneath this airspace, including the avoidance of UAS flight operations over heavily traveled roads.

The county airport is reported to have 150 based aircraft and 38,000 annual airport operations. It does not have an air traffic control tower. Is a UAS test site compatible with the existing activity and infrastructure at the county airport?

It is my recommendation to the county commissioners that they request and receive a detailed briefing on the UAS test site project and its selection criterion before blindly spending public funds to ultimately be told by the FAA that it is not feasible.



Vernon Gray, Tall Timbers

The writer is former commissioner of aviation at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, N.Y.