FAA picks 6 states for drone testing sites

 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday announced that it will create a network of testing sites across the U.S. for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), better known as “drones."

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The testing sites, in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, will be a crucial step toward the commercial use of drones over U.S. airspace, which currently remains unauthorized. The FAA announced in November that it hopes to establish guidelines for commercial usage by the end of 2015.

Though currently a province of the military and law enforcement, both businesses and local governments have shown some interest in domestic drone usage. Most prominently, Internet retailer Amazon Inc. turned heads earlier this month when it announced tentative plans to deliver parcels to buyers via unmanned drones.

The six states chosen will allow the FAA to test across a wide variety of climates, and the New York site will look into safely incorporating drones into the crowded airspace of the Northeast.

Lawmakers from selected states were quick to praise the selections. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said the choice of Nevada would add jobs to his economically beleaguered state.

“Considering that Nevada continues to lead the nation in unemployment, the FAA’s decision is both welcome and well-timed. Nevada has long been a leader in UAS development and testing.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said the site located at Grand Forks Air Force Base would make his state “the premier northern hub for unmanned aerial systems.” North Dakota’s legislature has already approved $5 million in funding for a new aerospace complex in Grand Forks that will be built around the test site.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta emphasized safety as a top priority in the agency's work to legalize drones and expressed confidence in their eventual success.

“We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft,” he said.