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States anxious on FAA’s UAV test sites

States vying for the six government-mandated test range sites for unmanned aerial vehicles are getting anxious for a decision from the FAA on where the facilities will go.

The Federal Aviation Administration was due in August to issue its first decisions on where the ranges  --  where unmanned aircraft can be flown experimentally, with an eye toward eventually integrating such unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System  --  would be positioned. After seeking initial public input on the locations in May, according to an organization of state lieutenant governors and state leaders, the agency hasn’t yet issued its decision.

The sites are expected to generate millions in revenue and create thousands of jobs in each location that’s ultimately chosen. Twenty-six states, including those as diverse as, Hawaii, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, have expressed interest in hosting one of the test sites.

The lieutenant governor of Alaska and chair of the Aerospace States Association sent a letter to FAA administrator Michael Huerta on Sept. 21 urging the agency to move forward with the project.

According to a September GAO report there are still issues that the FAA needs to work on, including privacy protections and technical considerations like GPS signal coordination, before it can proceed with allowing wider use of the unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace by 2015.

“As you know, the federal government took an important step toward that goal earlier this year when Congress passed, and the president signed into law, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act,” said Mead Treadwell, Lt. Governor of Alaska and Aerospace States Association chair.

“However, it has come to our attention that the FAA recently missed a key benchmark mandated by this legislation to establish a program to create six UAS test sites around the country as part of the integration process,” he said. “While the legislation required the FAA to put in place the test site program by August 12, 2012, the FAA has yet to do so.” He added that states have invested millions of dollars and significant effort to prepare to respond the FAA’s announcement of the test site.

Treadwell said the delay could also cost the U.S. a global competitive advantage.

“With growing demand for UAS technology from a wide range of sectors including public safety, agriculture, energy and others, charting a course toward the safe and responsible civil and commercial use of UAS in our national airspace is a crucial step for maintaining our competitive advantage,” he said. “But this delay in establishing the test site program could delay the entire integration process, and continue the disturbing trend toward the U.S. losing ground in an industry poised to deliver on job creation.”