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Hawaii among states selected by FAA for drone testing

    Flying out of Mojave, Calif., a decade ago, NASA used its Proteus aircraft to test collision-avoidance technology to let drones operate freely in civil airspace. Now the FAA is working on rules to manage flying robots in the nation’s airspace.

Hawaii has been selected to be a test bed for increased drone flights as the Federal Aviation Administration seeks to create rules of the air and incorporate an ever-expanding number of the flying robots into the nation’s airspace.

Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon are part of a partnership that was selected to become one of six groups nationwide for the effort, with backers hoping the Aloha State would become a mecca for unmanned vehicle research, testing and certification, creating science jobs and adding millions to the economy along the way.

Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island, the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and even the island of Niihau have been included in discussions of places where the testing could occur, officials said.

The FAA said in a release Monday that "after a rigorous 10-month selection process involving 25 proposals from 24 states," it had chosen six unmanned aircraft systems research and test site operators across the country.

In selecting the six test site operators, the FAA said it 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.

The Hawaii selection came through a partnership with the 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 FAA said.

 The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation. Sites in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and a Virginia-New Jersey partnership also were selected.

The FAA said it  is confident that the agency’s research goals including system safety and data gathering, aircraft certification, command and control issues, control station layout and certification 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.

The FAA said it recognized "it was important to have requirements ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are protected at the test sites."  Among other requirements, test site operators must comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy, have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention, and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment, the FAA said.

Test site operations will continue until at least February 13, 2017, the FAA said.

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