While skeptics abound, states across the country also see economic development potential associated with unmanned aerial vehicles. According to the Los Angeles Times, 50 separate groups from 37 states have expressed interest in the FAA's competition to become a designated drone testing site. The idea behind the pilot sites is to test and evaluate how drones can safely be added to U.S. airspace.
Broadly used for military purposes, drones are gaining ground in law enforcement and disaster response. Citizen concerns about Big Brother-like government overstepping the boundaries of privacy, however, continue to impact the growth of domestic drone use.
Despite these concerns, jurisdictions are talking up their unique qualifications to serve as testing sites in the hopes of encouraging growth of the local aerospace industry. Teal Group Corp., an aerospace research firm, estimates that global spending on drones will double in the next 10 years to reach $11.4 billion.
A joint pitch from Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon touts the variety of environments and vast amounts of relatively low-traffic airspace; Arizona plays up its weather, which provides nearly ideal flying conditions throughout the year; Florida, conversely, argues that its severe weather offers a chance to see how drones perform in a variety of conditions; North Carolina emphasizes its storied history in aviation.
Congress asked the FAA to set rules for drones to operate in U.S. airspace by 2015. The six drone test sites will be selected by the end of 2013.