New Mexico Wants to Be a Federal UAV Test Site

A federal program allowing for more complex drone testing on state, local and tribal land has the interest of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

by Andrew Oxford, The Santa Fe New Mexican / November 3, 2017

(TNS) -- The federal government will give a few select areas around the country a chance to experiment with new uses for drones, and Gov. Susana Martinez wants New Mexico to be one of them.

Speaking Thursday in Washington, D.C., Martinez touted a new program from President Donald Trump’s administration that will allow state, local and tribal governments to expand the use of drones.

Though unmanned aerial vehicles have proliferated in recent years, the federal government still tightly controls their use. For example, drones must stay within a pilot’s sight and remain below 400 feet.

This program would loosen those restrictions in select cases.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will take applications from state, local and tribal governments interested in creating zones to test more complex uses of unmanned aerial systems, such as package delivery or responding to disasters.

The government will create at least five such areas, collect data on drone use in those areas and help integrate unmanned aerial systems into air traffic.

“These partnerships will help us innovate across the board in agriculture, emergency management, transportation, just about any field possible,” Martinez told a crowd at the department’s headquarters, sharing the stage with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

A spokesman for the governor did not specify which organizations or governments around the state might apply for the program.

New Mexico State University already oversees a large testing area for drones that stretches across the southwest corner of the state.

And Google has tested solar-powered drones at Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences.

Drones also have posed particular challenges in New Mexico. Unmanned aerial vehicles have frustrated wildland firefighters calling in planes to douse forest fires, for example.

But some in the industry say this new program, first announced last week, will help develop new policies for broadening the use of drones in everyday life.

The visit to Washington was the governor’s latest step in getting closer to the Trump administration after clashing with the president during his election campaign.

Martinez will return to New Mexico on Friday, according to her staff.

©2017 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.