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FAA selects six test sites for drones

By Staff Reports on December 31, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration selected the six public entities that will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites around the U.S.

These test sites will conduct critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.

Amazon made headlines in early December when it announced that it plans to use drones to deliver packages, Air Cargo World reported.

Today, drones perform missions for government entities such as border and port surveillance, aid with scientific research and environmental monitoring, support public safety by law enforcement agencies and help state universities conduct research.

The six test site operators are:

  • University of Alaska. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations.
  • State of Nevada. The research will include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with the NextGen aviation system.
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport. Griffiss International in Rome, N.Y., plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS, and its sites will aide in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce. North Dakota will conduct human factors research.
  • Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk.

“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,” transportation secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The FAA’s role in the UAS program is to help the test site operators set up a safe testing environment and to provide oversight that ensures the sites operate under strict safety standards.

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

The FAA has established requirements for each test site that will help protect privacy. Test site operators will be required to comply with federal, state and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy; have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention; and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.