FAA Announces Drone Sites
December 30, 2013

FAA Names Drone Test Sites In US

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

With unmanned flying drones expected to see commercial use in the coming years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced six sites that will be set aside for the development of these robotic aviation systems. The sites are located in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

Congress had tasked the FAA with establishing the test sites as part of an objective to have unmanned drones sharing the skies with other commercial aircraft by the end of 2015.

According to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, the first of the sites should be operational within 180 days.

“The important thing about today's announcement is it provides the platform for this research to be carried out on a very large scale, really across the entire country,” Huerta said in a phone conference with journalists. “In the selection of these six, we have broad diversity across the country, in a variety of airspace and climate configurations. We received many great proposals, but in picking six what we have here is a great platform to provide research all across the country.”

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International cheered the announcement and has projected that the unmanned drone industry will create 100,000 jobs and generate $82 billion in economic activity in the first decade of flight.

"Today's announcement by the FAA is an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft," Michael Toscano, the industry group's CEO told USA Today. "From advancing scientific research and responding to natural disasters to locating missing persons and helping to fight wildfires, (unmanned aircraft) can save time, save money, and, most importantly, save lives.”

The sites will be located at the University of Alaska, Griffiss International Airport in New York State, Texas A&M University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the North Dakota Department of Commerce and the State of Nevada.

"These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The FAA said commercial pilots will be made aware of any drone testing through routine announcements.

"Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace," Huerta said.

The flight of unmanned aircraft is currently severely limited. Besides model aircraft being flown by hobbyists, the FAA has approved drones for university research and public uses, including law-enforcement agencies.

Despite the rapid pace with which drones seem to be coming into use, the federal government is already running behind schedule, as the six research locations announced Monday were supposed to be named by August 2012. Huerta said the FAA is currently developing a rule to be announced in early 2014 for a wide range of smaller, municipal drones.

The aviation administrator said the use of drones will be phased in, but he insists that the agency will meet the September 2015 deadline.