Three weeks after starting tests at the first of six research sites for unmanned aircraft systems, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun operations at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
For the next two years, a team of researchers will use drones for animal surveys at a test complex in Fairbanks. The purpose, the FAA said, is to show that drones can locate and count wild animals for Alaskan surveys of the wildlife population. In addition to counting animals, drone operators must coordinate with air traffic controllers because the Fairbanks International Airport is close to the test site.
“Alaska has a history of innovation in manned aviation, and now they are bringing that pioneering spirit into the unmanned aircraft arena as well,” U. S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We look forward to the contributions they and the other test sites will make toward our efforts to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”
The FAA is running to get out ahead of the wave of drone popularity, hoping to impose regulations that, among other things, stress safety and security before even more commercial operators introduce their own drones. The agency has already appealed a ruling in March by the National Transportation Safety Board that found the FAA doesn't have jurisdiction to levy fines against private drone operators because drones aren't technically aircraft.
In November, the FAA produced a road map toward the successful integration of drones into domestic commercial airspace, envisioning an integration of non-government drones by 2015. Amazon announced last fall that it was hoping to get its own drone delivery system, Amazon Prime Air, off the ground by 2015.