FAA Grants Civil UAS Operations Waiver for University of Nevada, Reno Operated Nevada Autonomous Test Site

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted the Nevada Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Test Site (UASTS) a waiver (Waiver No. 44803-7) issued under the authority of Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C.) 44803(c) for civil (non-public) UAS operations at a 1,000 square mile test site area located north of Reno, Nevada.

“This means Nevada Autonomous and the Nevada UASTS are open for business for the UAS Industry to efficiently and safely test their new technologies,” Carlos Cardillo, executive director of corporate partnerships at the University and director of the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR), said.

The Nevada UASTS is operated by Nevada Autonomous in NCAR at the University of Nevada, Reno, under contract with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“As a component of the University’s Nevada Center for Applied Research, Nevada Autonomous has been receiving the support of the GOED administered Knowledge Fund,” Tom Burns, executive director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said. “This not only underscores Nevada’s dedication to innovation, but also signifies the potential for this industry to make a substantial economic impact within our state.”

The designation as a FAA UAS Test Site was awarded to Nevada in 2013 to help the Federal Aviation Authority assess key UAS research questions and help develop regulations and operational procedures for future commercial and civil use of the NAS.

Graphic above – Approved Nevada UAS Test Site Operating Areas.

University President Brian Sandoval, during his tenure as Governor of Nevada from 2011 to 2019, played a significant role in the establishment and development of the Nevada UASTS. Sandoval’s administration actively supported efforts to promote Nevada as an ideal location for UAS testing and development, leveraging the state’s expansive airspace, existing aerospace infrastructure, and partnerships with industry stakeholders and academic institutions.

“The continued efforts in the development of the UAS industry by Nevada Autonomous reflects the University’s commitment to fostering innovation, economic diversification and technological advancement in the state,” President Sandoval said. “The University of Nevada is a leading partner in the UAS sector, and it is vital that we continue to work with other industry leaders and federal agencies such as the FAA and Department of Defense.”

Current FAA regulations limit small UAV operations over people and require the drone to remain within visual line of sight of the remote pilot. The recently awarded waiver and associated Certificate of Authorization (COA) enables Nevada UAS Test Site customers under the operational control of Nevada Autonomous to operate drones up to 300 pounds takeoff weight and altitudes up to but not including 18,000 feet above sea level (MSL), depending on which of the four adjacent NV UASTS operating areas shown in the image are being used.

“This waiver will allow our research and development testing to enable more expansive uncrewed flights including larger UAS operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the remote pilot,” Mark Genung, Nevada UASTS Operator, said.

This is the first of a series of test sites planned to be approved in Nevada.

“This is extremely great news for Nevada Autonomous and the University and Nevada,” Mridul Gautam, vice president for research and innovation at the University, said. “Thanks to Nevada Autonomous, NCAR personnel and their tireless efforts over the past year, this waiver opens a new opportunity for the Nevada UASTS to enable aviation companies to come to Nevada and take advantage of the high desert environment, large areas of uncontrolled airspace, and generally favorable aviation weather in Northern Nevada. Nevada Autonomous and the Nevada UASTS will significantly reduce the design-develop-test-redesign-test-verify-final-product design cycle time. This is the place to come to test cutting edge, uncrewed aircraft systems, sensors and payloads.”

Partners interested in drone research, development, testing and operations should contact the Nevada Center for Applied Research, or fill out the inquiry form.