The six sites, which receive no federal funding, were announced in December 2013. Some 25 states bid to host them.
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested that the site operators are unclear about the type of research they are to conduct. Nonetheless, despite problems in attracting UAS industry participation, the sites conducted 195 test flights in their first year. The research conducted by the test sites will continue until 2017, but if the FAA does not glean useful data from these tests, regulations permitting UAS activities may be delayed or limited in scope.
The test site sponsors and their research goals are the following:
- The University of Alaska is conducting UAS research in seven climatic zones, including locations in Hawaii and Oregon, and will develop standards for unmanned aircraft categories, safety, state monitoring, and navigation.
- The state of Nevada is concentrating on UAS standards and operations, operator standards, and certification requirements. The research will also evaluate the evolution of air traffic control procedures as UAS are integrated into the civil environment, and how these aircraft will be integrated with FAA's satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System, which is under development.
New York's Griffiss International Airport is focusing on developing UAS test and evaluation processes under FAA safety oversight, and sense-and-avoid capabilities for UAS. Its sites in New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan will research the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested northeastern airspace.
The North Dakota Department of Commerce is developing UAS airworthiness essential data to validate types of UAS technology. Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi is developing safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations, with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is conducting UAS failure mode testing and identifying and evaluating operational and technical risk areas, using locations in Virginia and New Jersey.
- Federal Aviation Administration, "FAA Selects Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research and Test Sites," press release (Dec. 30, 2013) (full-text).