WASHINGTON - The Federal Aviation Administration Monday announced six states, including New York, will have test sites for drone in a major step towards launch of the unmanned aircraft in US skies.
The states are: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. They will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air traffic environments, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.
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.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sifted through 25 applicants before fixing the six states.
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.
The selection is one of the first US regulatory moves to begin integrating unmanned aircraft with planes and helicopters as companies including Amazon.com Inc. push to develop commercial drones.
Sales of civilian and military drones around the world may reach $89 billion during the next 10 years, according to a forecast by the Teal Group Corp., a Fairfax, Virginia-based aerospace research company.
Drone makers include Northrop Grumman Corp., General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and AeroVironment Inc.
Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos told CBS's 60 Minutes that small copters may be able to drop off packages weighing as much as 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms), speeding delivery of books and other items. Bezos said it may take the FAA four or five years to create rules permitting the devices.
The FAA does not currently 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.
Representatives from winning states were jubilant about the FAA announcement and the likelihood that the testing will draw companies interested in cashing in on the fledgling industry.
The test sites will be used to help the FAA develop certification standards for unmanned aircraft and operating them within the air-traffic system, according to the law requiring the sites.
The agency considered factors including location, climate, the type of flights in the area and safety factors, it said in the release. These six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research needs, the agency said in the release.
The winners were the University of Alaska, which also has test sites located in Hawaii and Oregon; the state of Nevada; Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York; the North Dakota Department of Commerce; Texas AandM University at Corpus Christi; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg
"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", FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in the release.
There will be almost 250,000 civilian and military drones in the US by 2035, a study this year from the Department of Transportation found. Usage will be sparse at first, growing as technology hurdles are cleared, the study concluded.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, called the announcement a "slam dunk" for central and northern New York.
At least one of the six sites chosen will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession.
In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site locations in seven climatic zones. New York's site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace.
Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.
Tests will determine whether drones can detect and avoid obstacles including other aircraft and whether they can operate safety when they lose contact with their operators.
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.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said the designation positions his state as a northern hub for unmanned systems and should attract students, researchers and aerospace technology companies.