Drone Testing Could Be Coming to Your State

The FAA is getting ready to launch test sites in six states to help clear the way for commercial drones.

An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush May 14, 2013 in the Atlantic Ocean.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Dustin Volz
Dec. 30, 2013, 7:29 a.m.

The Fed­er­al Avi­ation Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced six test sites Monday where re­search­ers will de­vel­op and fly un­manned drones, tak­ing a huge step to­ward the even­tu­al na­tion­al in­teg­ra­tion of UAVs in­to com­mer­cial air­space.

The agency just barely beat a dead­line to award con­tracts for the test sites by the end of 2013, a 10-month se­lec­tion pro­cess that in­cluded choos­ing among 25 pro­pos­als from 24 states.

The test sites are as geo­graph­ic­ally, cli­mat­ic­ally, and func­tion­ally di­verse as the po­ten­tial uses for com­mer­cial drones. They are:

  • Uni­versity of Alaska, chosen for “de­vel­op­ment of a set of stand­ards for un­manned air­craft cat­egor­ies, state mon­it­or­ing, and nav­ig­a­tion” as well as drone safety stand­ards

  • State of Nevada, chosen to “look at how air traffic con­trol pro­ced­ures will evolve with the in­tro­duc­tion of [drones] in­to the civil en­vir­on­ment”

  • New York’s Griff­iss In­ter­na­tion­al Air­port, chosen to “work on de­vel­op­ing test and eval­u­ation as well as veri­fic­a­tion and val­id­a­tion pro­cesses un­der FAA safety over­sight” and to re­search drone “sense and avoid cap­ab­il­it­ies” and how to in­teg­rate them in­to “con­ges­ted, north­east air­space”

  • North Dakota De­part­ment of Com­merce, chosen to de­vel­op drone “air­wor­thi­ness es­sen­tial data and val­id­ate high re­li­ab­il­ity link tech­no­logy”

  • Texas A&M Uni­versity (Cor­pus Christi), chosen to “de­vel­op sys­tem safety re­quire­ments for [drone] vehicles and op­er­a­tions”

  • Vir­gin­ia Tech, chosen to con­duct “fail­ure mode test­ing and identi­fy and eval­u­ate op­er­a­tion­al and tech­nic­al risk areas”

It’s worth not­ing that these an­nounced sites have noth­ing to do with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s pre-Cy­ber Monday me­dia coup, which promp­ted a fevered na­tion­al de­bate about po­ten­tial drone use in the near fu­ture. The FAA re­leased a road map earli­er this year out­lining its goals for test­ing drone in­teg­ra­tion in­to com­mer­cial air­space, and FAA Ad­min­is­trat­or Mi­chael Huerta prom­ised to award the con­tracts by the end of the year.

Huerta in­sists the agency will meet a Septem­ber 2015 dead­line to in­teg­rate drones in­to na­tion­al air­space. The FAA has missed sev­er­al con­gres­sion­ally man­dated dead­lines on this is­sue, however, so all the buzz about Amazon’s drone de­liv­ery as­pir­a­tions could have promp­ted the agency to put more em­phas­is on meet­ing this dead­line.

Mi­chael To­scano, pres­id­ent of the As­so­ci­ation for Un­manned Vehicle Sys­tems In­ter­na­tion­al, called the an­nounce­ment an “im­port­ant mile­stone on the path to­ward un­lock­ing the po­ten­tial of un­manned air­craft.”

“The FAA has taken an im­port­ant step to­ward re­cog­niz­ing the in­cred­ible eco­nom­ic and job-cre­ation po­ten­tial this tech­no­logy brings,” To­scano said in a state­ment. His or­gan­iz­a­tion pro­jects that drone tech­no­logy could gen­er­ate 100,000 jobs and add $82 bil­lion to the eco­nomy in the first dec­ade of in­teg­ra­tion.

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates re­main con­cerned about po­ten­tially in­vas­ive uses of drone tech­no­logy. Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key, D-Mass., has called for fed­er­al pri­vacy pro­tec­tions to be im­ple­men­ted be­fore the in­dustry lifts off in the com­ing years.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.