The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it has selected sites in a handful of states to test unmanned aircraft systems, a crucial step in the integration of drones into the national airspace.
The FAA selected teams based in Virginia, Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas. Several teams included other states in their bids, meaning drone testing will also take place in Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey.
Each test site will be responsible for testing drones in a different context. Nevada, for instance, will do much of the research on unmanned vehicles' impact on air traffic control. North Dakota will test the data links between drones and their controllers. New York will test the sense-and-avoid technologies crucial for keeping drones away from people and other aircraft.
Virginia Tech, which will work with Rutgers University in New Jersey, is set to examine what happens when drones fail.
Each site will have special airspace designated to test unmanned aircraft. Beyond the technical specialties, the sites were chosen for being geographically and climatically different from one another, FAA administrator Michael Huerta told reporters Monday.
Integrating drones into the U.S. airspace is expected to take years and to take into account privacy and safety concerns. The FAA has acknowledged that it will take longer than Congress had hoped when it set a September 2015 deadline for granting drones general access to the skies.
The FAA chose the sites out of 25 proposals from teams in 24 states. States have courted drone manufacturers, offering tax and research-and-development incentives to companies in search of locations for new facilities. North Dakota offered to match investments in drone research, while states such as Utah and Mississippi made the case that they had the educational facilities to turn out new engineers and pilots.
State officials hope the drone industry will bring billions in economic development as the number of manufacturers grows.