The Army recently issued Directive 2012-2, a supplemental policy requiring Federal Aviation Administration authorization to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System.

Army Secretary John McHugh wrote in a memorandum that the Army considers the UAS an emerging technology, and the service intends to use UAS for training and directed mission support and thus needs access to national airspace.

“To ensure that UAS operations are conducted safely and efficiently, and in accordance with Federal aviation regulations and other governing laws and procedures, the Deputy chief of staff (DCS), G-3/5/7 developed the enclosed supplemental policy,” McHugh said in documents obtained by Secrecy News

The policy went into effect immediately and will be reviewed biannually.

Viva Austin, product director for Airspace Integration Concepts in PM UAS said, “the Army has many (certificates of authorization) COAs that allow them to operate in the national airspace system. Currently, we also have a COA to operate at El Mirage using GBSAA, although we are not currently operating under that COA. We worked through United States Army Aeronautical Services Agency to make comments and edits on this document while it was being developed.”

The new policy requires FAA-approved certificates of authorization for those UAS operations that will take place outside of restricted or warning areas, except for some operations in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace.

The exception would be for UAS that weigh 20 pounds or less and will fly below 1,200 feet over military controlled land areas.

The new policy also prohibited armed UAS flights outside of restricted and warning areas unless they are specifically authorized in the FAA certificate of authorization.

Attached to the new Army policy is the 2007 Memorandum of Agreement between the Defense Department and FAA.

“It is the DoD’s goal that appropriately equipped UAS will have ready access to the NAS for the conduct of domestic operations, exercises, training, and testing,” the agreement said. “It is the FAA’s goal that DoD UAS operations are conducted safely and expeditiously, present no threat to the general public, and do no harm to other users of the NAS.” 

Meanwhile, just a few days before the Army’s new directive was issued, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), parent organization of the FAA. 

EFF’s lawsuit asks for immediate response to the FOIA request, including the release of data on any certificates and authorizations issued for unmanned aircraft flights, expired authorizations, and any applications that have been denied, the foundation said in a statement. 

FAA authorization or certification is required for any UAS flying over 400 feet, but EFF said there is currently no public information about who specifically has obtained authorizations or for what purpose.

In April 2011, EFF filed a similar request, but the DOT so far has failed to provide the information.

EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said: “As the government begins to make policy decisions about the use of these aircraft, the public needs to know more about how and why these drones” are being used.