Drone Test Sites Sought by FAA

The FAA is looking for locations to test the use of unmanned aircraft in American airspace.

The organization is accelerating its plans to introduce unmanned drones above domestic soil, after President Obama signed legislation that will speed up the process. The legislation, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, includes requirements for introducing unmanned aircraft systems and vehicles, including drones, into national airspace, effective immediately.

The FAA is currently looking for six test sites in the United States, and locations in 30 states have already shown interest in hosting drone testing, reports RT. According to the FAA's schedule, drones will take to American airspace by late 2015, and by the end of the decade, they estimate there will be 30,000 non-military UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in our skies.

"We expect to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations," said FAA Chief Michael Huerta in a statement obtained by the AP. "The test sites will inform the agency as we develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air traffic requirements."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood added "this research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies."

The head of FAA drone department spoke at a convention outside D.C. earlier this week, discussing American concerns about using drones within American borders. Drones are already being used in border patrol missions for department of homeland security and the FAA has already received 81 applications from entities like small law enforcement agencies (local police), as well as other federal, state and educational institutions applying for drone licenses.

"We currently have rules in the books that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period. These rules are in place and that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft," said Jim Williams of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Privacy concerns have many worried about drones within American borders. On Thursday Feb. 14, the same day that Obama signed the FAA legislation, an anti-drone group, Alameda County Against Drones, met at a public hearing held by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors' Public Protection Committee. The group is protesting the Alameda County Sheriff's Department's decision to deploy up to two small drones, reports Wired's Threat Level.

"We oppose the use of public resources to buy machines to surveil its citizens," said Michael Seigel, a member of the protest group, told the committee. Later, a county sheriff's official claimed that the "small unmanned aircraft" would only focus on serious crimes, nothing smaller than a felony, but Sheriff Gregory Ahern later stated "I don't want to lock myself into just felonies."

The department has yet to select a model of drone, but has received multiple bids from companies that manufacture unmanned aircraft.

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