FAA selects second drone testing site

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected a second site for testing the possibility to allowing non-military drones to fly alongside commercial airplanes.

The agency said Monday that the tests would be conducted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the next two years.

The announcement follows the prior selection of a testing site in North Dakota.

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The DOT said the Alaska site would be used to test the interaction of drones with animal wildlife and air traffic controllers because it is located five miles away from the Fairbanks International Airport.

"Alaska has a history of innovation in manned aviation, and now they are bringing that pioneering spirit into the unmanned aircraft arena as well,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”

The FAA is under pressure to approve the use of commercial drones quickly.

Congress has required the agency to develop a plan for boosting the use of drones in the U.S. by 2015, and online companies like Amazon are clamoring for the availability to use drones to speed up delivery times.

The agency has shut down drone operations by groups as varied as an Internet beer company and the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team in recent months.

The technology originally was sought by police and other law enforcement groups. It has drawn criticism from privacy advocates who raised concerns about increased surveillance, however.

The FAA has said any of its potential test sites would have to have a plan to protect the privacy of nearby citizens.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the testing the impact of increased drone use was going as planned, despite the ramped-up pressure that is being placed on the agency.

“The test site program is forging ahead just as we expected,” Huerta said in a statement. “The University of Alaska Fairbanks program is important because it includes a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones, so it will give us a wealth of data to help develop appropriate safety regulations and standards.”