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Hypersonic UAS testing near Denver International prompts concern

“We find the latest announcement from CASP regarding testing hypersonic drones alarming in its ramifications for safety and airspace impacts on tens of millions of travelers who travel through Denver International each year and on local general aviation operations,” the groups wrote to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on October 8.

“Hypersonic testing, while commendable, is concerning when being conducted at an active GA airport that is close to Denver International Airport,” said Christopher Cooper, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs.

When the airport was selected as a test site, the FAA and the Adams County Board of County Commissioners (which owns the Colorado Air and Space Port) had agreed “that launches from the spaceport would be confined to a vehicle type capable of takeoffs and landings with characteristics similar to conventional aviation in order to minimize airspace and safety impacts.”

A hypersonic drone rocket certainly doesn’t meet that criterion.

In addition, officials at Denver International Airport and the Adams County Board of County Commissioners were supposed to have agreed to parameters that confine operations to the spaceport and ensure “safe and efficient use” of the national airspace system. That has not happened, according to the groups.

Out of concern for the safety of pilots and passengers flying into Denver International Airport, the groups are requesting “that FAA require an environmental assessment of the safety, airspace, and community impacts associated with testing an experimental rocket” at Colorado Air and Space Port. They also stated that the operational parameters for the tests should be codified for the two airports to avoid confusion.

“Our organizations believe that the testing of experimental, hypersonic unmanned aircraft will create unnecessary safety hazards and airspace conflicts in proximity to a commercial airport that is critical to the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System,” the groups said.

The Air Line Pilots Association, International; Airlines for America; the American Association of Airport Executives; and the National Business Aviation Association joined AOPA in voicing concern. 

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