[JURIST] The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) [official website] announced [press release] on Monday the selection of six locations that will serve as research and testing sites for non-military applications of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones [JURIST backgrounder]. In February 2012, Congress ordered the agency to research the use of drones as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012 [bill text, PDF] and the selection of testing locations represents the latest development for the future of drone use in the US. The FAA chose the sites after a 10-month application process, during which the agency reviewed 25 proposals from 24 states across the US. The selected sites are the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The FAA chose the locations by considering a mix of factors, including geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience, and risk. The FAA expects the first site to be operational within 180 days of the announcement, and the agency is working to develop guidelines for the use of commercial drones by the end of 2015. Under the current law, the testing locations will continue until at least February 2017.
Drone use has been a controversial issue both in the US and internationally. In October, UN experts urged the international community to have greater accountability [JURIST repot] and transparency when it comes to the use of drones. A week earlier, the UN released a report showing that the US had killed more people [JURIST report] using drone strikes than it publicly claimed to have killed. A month earlier, the FBI released a report [JURIST report] detailing its plans for the use of unmanned drones in future missions. In August, the UN stated that if the US is to use drones they must comply [JURIST report] with international law. In March, a US appeals court overruled a lower court ruling and held that the Central Intelligence Agency is required to officially acknowledge [JURIST report] whether or not it has records pertaining to the use of unmanned drones.