(CNSNews.com) – States will soon compete to operate six unmanned aircraft test sites, commonly known as drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Wednesday.
The FAA wants states to compete for the drone test sites, which were mandated by Congress last year in the 2012 FAA Reauthorization bill. The sites will test the safety of drones before they are introduced into the National Airspace System by 2015.
“When will the test site selection begin? I’m sure all of you are asking that,” said Jim Williams, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office.
“And the answer is, we’re getting closer every day, very close as a matter of fact,” he said.
Williams said the agency will release the Screening Information Request, which will allow the FAA to proceed with the program, before March.
At least two dozen states are vying to host one of the six drone testing sites, which could reap hundreds of jobs and attract investments.
“The local payoff could be substantial,” wrote the Springfield News-Sun in Ohio, one state interested in participating in the program. “Host states could attract jobs and millions of dollars in business investment.”
“The six sites would burnish their national credentials as go-to centers for unmanned aircraft expertise,” the paper said.
The test sites will create certification standards and air traffic requirements for drones and designate airspace for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) within the national airspace system.
“Unmanned aircraft can help us meet a number of challenges, from spotting wildfires to assessing natural disasters,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last year. “But these test sites will help us ensure that our high safety standards are maintained as the use of these aircraft becomes more widespread.”
As CNSNews.com previously reported, the FAA has already authorized 106 federal, state and local government “entities” to fly drones within U.S. airspace.
The FAA’s long-term goal is to permit drones to operate in U.S. airspace “to the greatest extent possible,” according to congressional testimony presented by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The proliferation of domestic drones, which can fly beyond line of sight and up to 2,000 feet, however raises numerous privacy concerns due to their surveillance capability.
“Concerns include the potential for increased amounts of governmental surveillance using technologies placed on UAS as well as collection and use of such data,” said Gerald L. Dillingham, GAO’s director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, before the House Homeland Subcommittee last year. “Surveillance by federal agencies using UAS must take into account associated constitutional Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“The protection of public privacy is a concern for all of our stakeholders,” Williams said. “Because the 2012 bill that charged the FAA with safe integration of UAS in the NAS, the issue of protecting people’s privacy has been raised in various forms.”
Privacy protection, however, will not be “fully addressed by the test site program,” the FAA said.
“So I challenge [the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International] UAUVSI and all of you to get serious about what your industry standards should be to ensure privacy protection,” Williams said.