By Ben Wolfgang-The Washington Times
The drone industry joined with state officials Tuesday in pressuring the federal government to stop dragging its feet and begin setting up vital test sites for unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Federal Aviation Administration was to have established by Aug. 12 the six locations where drones could be tested and studied in preparation for their eventual commercial and personal use.
Six weeks later, it still hasnâ€™t happened, and many fear the U.S. could fall behind its competitors in aerospace technology if delays continue.
â€œWhile the U.S. has led the way in the field of aviation since the Wright brothers first took flight nearly 110 years ago, we currently find ourselves in jeopardy of losing our global advantage,â€ said Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in a recent letter to the FAA. Mr. Treadwell also serves as chairman of the Aerospace States Association, a coalition of state leaders promoting the future of aviation and related industries.
â€œThis delay in establishing the test-site program could delay the entire [drone] integration process and continue the disturbing trend toward the U.S. losing ground in an industry posed to deliver on job creation,â€ he continued.
The burgeoning drone market, now the sole territory of military and law enforcement, will be opened to personal and commercial use in 2015. That expansion is expected to be an economic boon, as are the six FAA test sites, a congressionally mandated precursor to private drone use.
At least 30 states, including Maryland and Virginia, as well as Mr. Treadwellâ€™s Alaska, have expressed interest in hosting the locations. While states would bear the costs of setting up the sites, hundreds if not thousands of government and aerospace industry personnel would move into the area for a period of years, greatly boosting local economies.
The FAA on Tuesday said it understands the importance of the sites to drone integration but said it needs to answer several questions â€” especially those dealing with privacy and Fourth Amendment fears â€” before moving forward.
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