Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft; Colorado misses out

The Associated Press Updated: December 30, 2013 at 10:28 am • Published: December 30, 2013 0

LAS VEGAS — The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, the agency said.

No Colorado site was picked.

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. Many universities are starting or expanding drone programs.

"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 in a statement.

CU-Boulder assembled and submitted Colorado's application in May to be awarded one of the six national Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS, test sites, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

Campus officials had hoped that the formation last month of the startup business Rocky Mountain UAS would greatly strengthening Colorado's chances of being awarded one of the test sites.

Rocky Mountain UAS, which shows in state records as having an address in Castle Rock, is working hand-in-hand with CU and the rest of the state's UAS interests to prepare for the state's hoped-for future in UAS development.

It had been estimated that should Colorado land a site, it would have meant $1.4 billion and 1,760 jobs for the state's economy between 2015 and 2025.

Read more of the Daily Camera's story here.

The FAA said when selecting the sites it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

In the case of Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones. New York's site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace.

The state of North Dakota already has committed $5 million to the venture and named a former state Air National Guard Commander as its test site director.

The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected. The FAA projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace.

"Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned systems into U.S. airspace," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "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."

An industry-commissioned study has predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000.

Representatives from winning states were jubilant about the FAA announcement.

"This is wonderful news for Nevada that creates a huge opportunity for our economy," said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

The growing drone industry has critics among conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to U.S. skies moves the nation closer to "a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities," the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.

___

Associated Press writer Dave Kolpack in Fargo, N.D., contributed to this report.

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