The U.S. approved drone test centers in six states, including New York, as the start of research efforts to eventually allow civilian unmanned aircraft widespread access to the nation’s airways.
The Federal Aviation Administration, after sifting through 25 applicants, also approved bids from Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, it said in an emailed statement.
“What we were really looking for was, how do we select six that give us the broadest base of different airspace configurations, different traffic configurations and different climates?” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters.
The selection is one of the first U.S. regulatory moves to begin integrating unmanned aircraft with piloted planes and helicopters as companies including Amazon.com Inc. push to develop commercial drones.
Sales of civilian and military drones around the world may reach $89 billion during the next decade, according to a forecast by the Teal Group Corp., a Fairfax, Virginia-based aerospace research company. Drone makers include Northrop Grumman Corp., General Atomics and AeroVironment Inc.
Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos told CBS’s “60 Minutes” for a Dec. 1 segment that small copters may be able to drop off packages weighing as much as 5 pounds, speeding delivery of books and other items. Bezos said it may take the FAA four or five years to create rules permitting the devices.
The test sites’ backers expected that winning bids would draw companies and jobs, Andrea Bianchi, program manager for New York’s successful proposal, said in an interview before the announcement.
The test sites will be used to help the FAA develop certification standards for unmanned aircraft and how they can be operated within the air-traffic system, according to the law requiring the sites.
“The important thing about today’s announcement is it provides the platform for this research to really be carried out on a very large scale across the entire country,” the FAA’s Huerta said.
New York’s testing will focus on how drones will operate in the dense air traffic in the Northeast, he said.
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