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Domestic Drone Testing Coming to a State Near You

Testing is part of FAA plan to integrate thousands of drone into US airspace

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

An unmanned aerial vehicle flies at the unmanned aircraft flight station at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., on Dec. 12. (Photo: AP / Oklahoma State University, Jamey Jacob)Public institutions in six states have been selected to test commercial drones as part of a Federal Aviation Administration plan to integrate thousands of commercial drones into U.S. airspace, the agency announced Monday.

These testing sites will be run by publicly funded entities, including the University of Alaska, State of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, and Virginia Tech.

The FAA has already permitted approximately 300 "public organizations" to fly drones, said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette in an interview with Common Dreams. This includes drones used by law enforcement and Customs and Border Enforcement for the purpose of aerial surveillance.

Duquette said she would not disclose the numbers of drones in U.S. airspace armed with military grade weapons or spying capabilities.

So far, gas drilling giant ConocoPhillips is the only commercial entity granted a drone-flying permit by the FAA, said Duquette. Yet the FAA is attempting to clear the path for thousands more through its Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) "Road Map"—developed at the behest of Congress.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos grabbed national headlines when he announced in early December that his company plans to start delivering products via drone in the near future.

In a speech last month, FAA administrator Michael Huerta said, "Our FAA forecast estimates that we can expect 7,500 small unmanned aircraft in our national airspace in the next five years." 

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