FAA sets up final drone testing site

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday it has established a sixth and final testing site for the use of commercial drones in American airspace.

The agency said tests are now being conducted at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., with operations also taking place in Maryland and New Jersey. 

The FAA had already established five other drone testing sites in North Dakota, Alaska, Nevada, Texas and New York. Congress has required that the agency set up six sites to test the impact of increased drones use on commercial flights.

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Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Wednesday identifying the final location in Virginia is a critical step toward meeting the drone deadline. 

"We have undertaken the challenge of safely integrating a new and exciting technology into the busiest, most complex airspace in the world,” Foxx said in a statement. “The six test sites are going to play a key role in helping us meet that challenge."

The FAA is under heavy pressure to approve the use of commercial drones, with private companies such as Amazon clamoring to use them for deliveries and other tasks.

Congress has required the FAA to develop a plan for boosting the use of drones in the U.S. by 2015. The mandate called for the agency to test the interaction between drones and other types of airplanes at six sites across the country between now and then.

The agency has shut down drone operations in the meantime that were being conducted by groups as varied as an Internet beer company and the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Police and other law enforcement groups originally sought the technology. Privacy advocates have raised concerns about increased surveillance, however, and are warning the FAA to tread carefully.

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

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Wednesday that setting up all six of the planned test sites was a major milestone for the agency.

"Having all six national test sites up and running will give us more and better data to help expand the safe use of unmanned aircraft into our airspace,” Huerta said in a statement.