US states vie for drone test sites
Washington: Dozens of American states are in a fierce competition, vying to become home to one of six new proposed drone test sites, a major step towards the widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in American skies, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) told RIA Novosti.
"We are aware of dozens of states that are interested because they realize unmanned aircraft is the future of aviation and this could be a significant job creator in their state," said Ben Gielow, general counsel and government relations manager for AUVSI, a trade organization specializing in the emerging UAV industry.
Drone enthusiasts and manufacturers said in a matter of years the unmanned aircraft business will be a "trillion dollar industry" in the US, with a variety of businesses using the new technology, including realtors taking aerial videos to help sell property, farmers monitoring crops, and shipping companies delivering packages.
"Once the air space is open, this could potentially create 70,000 new jobs," Gielow said in a telephone interview Friday.
The government's request for proposals to create six new drone test sites across the country was announced Thursday by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The facilities will serve as a training ground to demonstrate how drones can safely fly in the National Airspace System while coexisting with traditional aircraft, the FAA said.
"This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," said US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement Thursday.
A US law that went into effect a year ago requires that the FAA allow drones access to American airspace by 2015.
In a letter to Congress last fall, the FAA's Acting Administrator Michael Huerta said his agency was behind schedule with the UAV program, in part, due to privacy advocates who expressed surveillance concerns that people would be monitored, tracked or recorded by government entities.
Industry insiders, including Gielow, insist that is not the case, adding that the use of UAVs will in no way violate privacy rights.
"The Fourth Amendment protects people's rights to privacy regardless of technology," said Gielow. "For law enforcement, an airborne asset might be helpful for example if there is a lost child or getting aerial photos of a crime scene or traffic accident," he said.
The AUVSI and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have also introduced operator guidelines, with a special emphasis on protecting the public's privacy.
The planned test sites will help gauge what is needed to avoid drone collisions with other aircraft and determine if the UAVs could present a threat to people and property on the ground.
According to reports, the test sites will also analyze the control procedures between drone operators on the ground and the aircraft, to ensure proper security exists to prevent the UAVs from being hacked causing the operators to lose control of their drones.
The FAA predicts approximately 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the US within the next five years.