The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states today that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft's march into US skies. The agency said Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia will host research sites. 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.
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 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. For one woman's take on what it's like to be a drone pilot, click here. (Read more FAA stories.)