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Virginia Awarded One Of Six FAA Drone Testing Sites

The FAA is exploring the potential commercial use of drone aircraft in American skies.
John Biehler: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69295994@N00/9449391330
The FAA is exploring the potential commercial use of drone aircraft in American skies.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has been chosen alongside five other states to develop FAA test sites for drones, in what is believed to be a critical next step for unmanned aircraft in American skies.

The Virginia Tech site will be used to conduct failure mode testing and to evaluate potential operational and technical risks in the operation of drone craft.

"These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release.

The other five sites announced by the FAA will be based in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, and Texas.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, passed by Congress in 2012, outlined the construction of the sites. The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015 (pdf). Officials concede it may take longer.

Earlier this month, the state awarded more than $2.6 million to Virginia Tech to operate a test site for unmanned aerial systems. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in September, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell agreed to collaborate with Maryland and New Jersey in their bid for the site.

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. Many universities are starting or expanding drone programs.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta says safety is the first priority in moving drones into U.S. airspace.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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