The Federal Aviation Administration has given the green light to six sites across the country to test drones as part of a broader plan to “safely integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the largest, most complex air traffic systems in the world.”

“While the selection of these test sites will not allow immediate access to the national airspace system for commercial and civil purposes, data and other information related to the operation of UAS that is generated by the six test site operators will help the FAA answer key research questions such as solutions for ‘sense and avoid,’ command and control, ground control station standards and human factors, airworthiness, lost link procedures and the interface with the air traffic control system,” the agency said in its announcement. “This data will help the FAA to develop regulations and operational procedures for future commercial and civil use of the NAS.”

Twenty-five entities in 24 states competed for the drone testing sites. The winners are:

  • University of Alaska.  The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. 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. Nevada’s project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant’s research will also 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 NextGen.  Nevada’s selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport.  Griffiss International plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also 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 plans to develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. This applicant will also conduct human factors research. North Dakota’s application was the only one to offer a test range in the Temperate (continental) climate zone and included a variety of different airspace which will benefit multiple users.
  • 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. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).  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.

The FAA said it was looking for sites that “achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity.”

At the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington this August, some states set up elaborate booths as part of a broader lobbying effort to be selected for the testing sites. North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Minnesota were among the more than 600 exhibitors.

AUVSI called the announcement “an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft.”

“In designating the first UAS test sites in these states, the FAA has taken an important step toward recognizing the incredible economic and job creation potential this technology brings. AUVSI’s economic report projects that the expansion of UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs nationwide and generate more than $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade following integration,” said Michael Toscano, president & CEO of the industry group.

“…Our hope is this will lead to the creation of more sites and eventually to full integration of UAS into our skies, which will help create lasting jobs and boost the U.S. economy.”