The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is studying how to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into U.S. airspace alongside conventional aircraft. Although UAVs have been flying in the United States for several years, they are limited to restricted airspace as well as portions of the borders with Canada and Mexico. The problem of operating unmanned aircraft within the same airspace as conventional aircraft has been a contentious issue for pilots and carriers. Under an agreement the FAA signed last week with Boeing subsidiary Insitu, the feds will begin flying an unmanned aircraft as part of continuing research using air traffic control simulations. Insitu will provide the FAA with a ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system for the research, which will be conducted at the William J. Hughes Technical Training Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The goal is to evaluate how an air traffic controller can manage unmanned aircraft along with manned aircraft. The ScanEagle is a relatively small UAV with a 10-foot wingspan. It weighs less than 50 pounds. During the research program, the New Jersey National Guard will fly the UAV within current air traffic control simulations operating in a restricted airspace. Other UAV makers, including General Atomics, maker of the larger Predator family of unmanned aircraft, have similar agreements with the FAA. Unmanned aircraft do not currently fly within U.S. airspace except within a handful of restricted regions or with a special waiver. Versions of the General Atomics Predator have been flying border patrols for a few years now, even operating from airports with a mix of small general aviation aircraft.
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