February 15, 2013 - 09:23 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - In a major step toward opening U.S. skies to thousands of unmanned drones, federal officials Thursday, Feb 14, solicited proposals to create six drone test sites around the country, The Associated Press reports.
The FAA is required by a law enacted a year ago to develop sites where civilian and military drones can be tested in preparation for integration into U.S. airspace that's currently limited to manned aircraft.
The law also requires that the FAA allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015, but the agency is behind schedule, and it's doubtful it will meet the deadline, the Transportation Department's inspector general said in a report last year.
The test sites are planned to evaluate what requirements are needed to ensure the drones don't collide with planes or endanger people or property on the ground. Remotely controlled drones don't have a pilot who can see other aircraft the way an onboard plane or helicopter pilot can.
The test sites are also expected to boost the local economy of the communities where they are located. About two dozen government-industry partnerships have been formed over the past year to compete for the sites.
The FAA plans to begin integrating drones starting with small aircraft weighing less than about 55 pounds. The agency forecasts an estimated 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the U.S. within five years.