BLACKSBURG, Va. -

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday that Virginia Tech has been chosen as a test site for drones.

Virginia Tech is one of six public entities chosen to develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft's march into U.S. skies.

According to the FAA, “Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas.”

“Virginia Tech and its partners are positioned to lead growth in a dynamic, new industry,” Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger wrote in a news release. “Integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace is a great responsibility, one that our faculty members and government, university, and industry partners take very seriously. We are ready to meet this challenge.”

The other public entities that were chosen are: the University of Alaska, State of Nevada, New York's Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, and Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi.

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.

The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015. Officials concede it may take longer.

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

Click here to see a previous story about Virginia Tech's drone research.  http://www.wdbj7.com/news/local/virginia-tech-has-unmanned-aerial-vehicles/-/20128466/23698394/-/h6tw2qz/-/index.html

VIRGINIA TECH NEWS RELEASE

University leaders in Virginia and New Jersey welcomed the Federal Aviation Administration’s approval (http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=75399&cid=TW197)on Monday of their proposal to operate a test site to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

With plans for the University of Maryland to join the partnership, efforts to introduce the safe and responsible use of unmanned aerial vehicles to the nation will be well-represented in the mid-Atlantic.

“Virginia Tech and its partners are positioned to lead growth in a dynamic, new industry,” said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger. “Integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace is a great responsibility, one that our faculty members and government, university, and industry partners take very seriously. We are ready to meet this challenge.”

In September, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland expressed their commitment to jointly support test-site infrastructure in a letter to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Rutgers is well positioned to support the FAA’s research and testing efforts to ensure that unmanned aircraft systems can fly safely in our nation’s skies,” said Rutgers University President Robert Barchi. “Building on our region’s important contributions to flight research, we look forward to working with our mid-Atlantic partners as we enter this exciting new era of aeronautical innovation.”

The FAA has until 2015 to develop regulations aimed at limiting the privacy and safety concerns associated with unmanned aircraft. Congress called for the establishment of six national unmanned aircraft system research and testing sites through the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

While much of the testing to date has been conducted under defense programs, continued work on the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace will be implemented through a combination of federal, state and local government resources, along with academic institutions and private industry.

New Jersey and Virginia submitted a joint proposal led by Virginia Tech as the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which unites academic, industry, state government and economic development organizations.

The University of Maryland, College Park, was the lead agency in the Maryland application for an FAA test site, bringing together a similar consortium of groups and test ranges.

After submitting the applications, the three universities agreed to work as a united team to enhance the region's competitive position in the event that either or both proposals were selected by the FAA.

More recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia announced it will award more than $2.6 million over three years in Federal Action Contingency Trust (FACT) funds to Virginia Tech to operate an unmanned aircraft systems test site.

The funds will take the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership from its current “volunteer” status to a fully functional and revenue-producing organization, capable of competitively analyzing and testing unmanned aircraft systems for industry and government.

“With our partners, we firmly believe we can introduce this new technology the right way,” said Jon Greene, interim director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and an associate director of Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technologies and Applied Science. “Separately the team members have flown unmanned aircraft systems for thousands of hours, and now we have joined together to conduct unmanned aircraft systems research, development, and test and evaluation activities.”

In addition to expertise, the mid-Atlantic region contains both uncongested and restricted airspace, land and water terrain, and access to sea-level and high altitudes. The region also has an extensive agricultural base, which is considered the primary growth area for unmanned aircraft systems technology.

Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the national airspace could add more than $13.6 billion to the nation’s economy by the end of the decade, reaching as high as $82.1 billion by 2025, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

FAA NEWS RELEASE

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced the selection of the six public entities that will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites around the country. These congressionally-mandated test sites will conduct critical research into the certification and operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace over the next several years.

Today, UAS perform border and port surveillance, help with scientific research and environmental monitoring, support public safety by law enforcement agencies, help state universities conduct research, and support various other missions for government entities.

In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk. In totality, these six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity and help the FAA meet its UAS research needs.

A brief description of the six test site operators and the research they will conduct into future UAS use are below:

University of Alaska: The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations.
State of Nevada. Nevada’s project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant’s research will also include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with NextGen. Nevada’s selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.

New York’s Griffiss International Airport.Griffiss International: plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aide in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.

North Dakota Department of Commerce: North Dakota plans to develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. This applicant will also conduct human factors research. North Dakota’s application was the only one to offer a test range in the Temperate (continental) climate zone and included a variety of different airspace which will benefit multiple users.

Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi: Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech): Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.
Across the six applicants, the FAA is confident that the agency’s research goals of System Safety & Data Gathering, Aircraft Certification, Command & Control Link Issues, Control Station Layout & Certification, Ground & Airborne Sense & Avoid, and Environmental Impacts will be met.

“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.

The FAA’s role in the UAS program is to help the test site operators set up a safe testing environment and to provide oversight that ensures the sites operate under strict safety standards.

“Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned aircraft systems into U.S. airspace,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.”

The FAA has established requirements for each test site that will help protect privacy. The requirements were developed with public input and the final requirements were published on November 14, 2013 in the Federal Register. This followed the February Federal Register notice that asked for public comments on the draft privacy requirements for the six test site operators. Among other requirements, test site operators will be required to comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy; have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention; and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment.