Drone Testing: States Vying For Locations On U.S. Soil

Drone flights above homes may soon become commonplace in the United States.

Amid the economic turmoil and budget predicaments facing the nation, many states are seeing an opportunity for jobs by obtaining an FAA approval for drone testing locations within their borders.

The Obama administration’s Department of Defense budget for 2013 plans for “making investments in high-priority programs, such as unmanned surveillance aircraft …” as one of the funding highlights. With $3.7 billion slated for investment in drone systems, private companies have strong incentives for drone research and development fueled by taxpayer money. 

While the FAA’s quest for drone testing locations does not automatically secure funding or jobs within the states that are approved, the FAA authorization would almost certainly guarantee that drone manufacturing companies would setup shop. The FAA has announced that there will be six states granted approval for drone testing. As of Monday, fifty different groups representing 37 states will be entering into the FAA’s competition.

Teal Group Corp., an aerospace company based in Virginia, estimates that the worldwide spending on unmanned aerial systems will reach $6.6 billion in 2013, which will almost double by 2022, to reach $11.4 billion. Drone strikes have been employed heavily by the Obama administration in overseas activity.

Many of the states are vying for attention by highlighting the attractive aspects of their locations; North Dakota emphasizes their lack of congested skies, California boasts about its diverse geography, while North Dakota celebrates its aviation history.

An LA Times article reported that the FAA has left the specifics of the testing locations up to the groups proposing them. Some states, such as North Carolina are offering up fifty-six square miles of testing space while others are offering up plenty more, including locations over small airports, desert land, and ocean.

Many Americans have been hesitant about the use of drones. The American Civil Liberties Union has previously expressed concern and worked on legislation to limit the use of drones. The Republican Party, in its 2012 platform, expressed support for legislation restricting drone use. The nearly 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was a recent opposition to the Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes brought into discussion from comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder.

On April 3, the FAA held “engagement session” on drone privacy in order to understand and discuss various positions regarding the unmanned aircraft. Slate reported a number of popular perspectives shared during the engagement session. The concerned side expressed worry regarding the safety of drones, citing the number of crashes. Similar to this concern, drones are also subject to computerized hacking, allowing for a digital hijacking.

Additionally, critics of drone testing in the U.S. also claimed, “drones pose an unprecedented privacy risk.” Similar to this objection, the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group, raised concern regarding the possibility that Americans would be constantly monitored by drones flying above. Proponents for drone testing claimed that drones are essential for the country in keeping up to date with aviation technology for both defense and in emergency services.

With a strong possibility of drones flying over U.S. soil, for development purposes or not, those in fear of big government may have more validity to their worry that we previously realized.