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Mississippi not among 6 states selected for FAA drone testing

Mississippi fell short in its bid to become a designated Federal Aviation Administration site for testing unmanned aircraft, or drones, for commercial use.

Mississippi and its Southern neighbors had been considered long shots to be among the half dozen states selected by the Federal Aviation Administration, although aviation experts had said Alabama’s Huntsville, home of Marshal Space Center, would get some consideration. Mississippi had touted its role as home to the Stennis Space Center and a range of private-sector driven military and commercial aircraft aviation research and development.

Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and Virginia Tech at Blacksburg landed the South’s drone testing designations after the Federal Aviation Administration’s 10-month selection period.

The FAA had proposals from Mississippi and 23 other states to become unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test site operators. Test site operations will continue until at least Feb. 13, 2017, as a prelude to the FAA issuing drone-flight licenses to commercial operators. Cyber retailer Amazon has already announced plans to use drones as part of a new generation order-delivery system..

Drone testing will continue through at least February 2017 as a prelude to commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

Drone testing will continue through at least February 2017 as a prelude to commercial use of unmanned aircraft.

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, the FAA said in a press statement.

Here is a brief description of the six test site operators and the research they will conduct into future UAS use:

>>>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 aid 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 said it 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.

Each test site operator will manage the test site in a way that will give access to parties interested in using the site. The FAA’s role is to ensure each operator sets up a safe testing environment and to provide oversight that guarantees each site operates under strict safety standards, the agency said.



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