LAS VEGAS -- The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen six states to develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft's march into U.S. skies.
FAA will work with all the sites to get at least one operating within the next six months. The sites are:
• University of Alaska, which has diverse climate and a variety of test sites, including in Hawaii and Oregon. The university plans to work on state monitoring, navigation and safety standards.
• State of Nevada, which plans to study standards for operators and certification requirements. The state will also study how air-traffic control procedures will evolve to handle drones.
• New York's Griffiss International Airport near Utica, which plans to research how drones and passenger aircraft will sense and avoid each other, to prevent collisions, particularly in the congested Northeast airspace.
• North Dakota Department of Commerce, which plans to develop airworthiness data and validate the reliability of links between pilots and unmanned aircraft.
• Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, which plans to develop safety systems for drones.
• Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which has test locations in Virginia and New Jersey, plans to test failure modes and technical risks for drones, to ensure they land safely if they lose connection with a pilot.
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.