In conjunction with the FAA Modernization Act of 2012 and the Comprehensive Plan released by the Federal Aviation Authority in November of 2013, the FAA recently revealed that Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia were selected as the unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) research and test site operators. These test site designations will remain in effect until February 13, 2017.
These six states were selected from a pool of 25 proposals affecting 24 states. According to the FAA, the 6 sites were chosen based on geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, air space use, safety, aviation experience and risk. The site operators are the University of Alaska, the State of Nevada, New York Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
As of May 5, 2014, the FAA announced that the University of Alaska’s test site has become operational. Early flights will be used to monitor the population of caribou, reindeer, musk ox and bear located within the state. The university will also use the unmanned aircraft systems during survey operations. The focus of these test flights will be to test the capabilities of UAS, but also to collect important safety information during the flight of these systems.
Test flights occurring at the Texas A&M Corpus Christi location have experienced a number of delays due to weather conditions, but have been successful in collecting data on costal habitats and shoreline changes. The university has acknowledged that this type of data is crucial for search and rescue missions, disaster relief operations, environmental mapping, and tracking wildlife species. These flights are being conducted over Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico and focus on UAS use in marine applications.
For more information on the six test sites and how to contact representatives for each, please see the FAA website.