Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

Maryland may share in the work expected to come to six sites in the country selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to test civilian drones, public officials said Monday morning, even though the University of Maryland’s proposal was not selected.

Virginia Tech’s proposal, which includes test sites in Virginia and New Jersey, was one of the six selected by the FAA. The University of Maryland and Rutgers University in New Jersey will provide research assistance as needed, according to Matt Scassero, director of the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, based on a memorandum of understanding signed by the three universities.

“For us, I would say it’s a partial win,” Scassero said Monday, adding that Maryland had applied on its own but was not selected by the FAA. Still, he said, Maryland will benefit from work that will be based at Virginia Tech as the civilian and commercial use of drones grows.

“We’ll be part of the winning effort,” he said.

Twenty-five sites across the country were vying for the designation.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a press conference Monday the sites were selected based on criteria including geographical and climatic diversity, existing ground infrastructure, aviation experience and other factors.

“This was a very robust competition,” with a wide range of proposals, he said. Along with Virginia Tech, the other sites designated were the University of Alaska, state of Nevada, New York’s Griffiss International Airport near Utica, the North Dakota Department of Commerce and Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi.

Test sites could begin operating within 180 days, and will be allowed to continue at least through February 2017, Huerta said.

Specific air space at each site will be designated for the drones to fly.

“Safety continues to be our first priority,” Huerta said, adding that it will be important for the unmanned vehicles to be able to detect and avoid other planes in the sky and safely operate if contact between the plan and operator is lost.

Work on military unmanned aerial vehicles at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and the Webster Field Annex in St. Mary’s County helped position Maryland and its partners ahead of the game, Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said.

The six test sites will focus on integrating drones, and all the technology needed to fly them, into civilian air space.

Virginia Tech plans to conduct unmanned aerial system failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas, according to the FAA announcement Monday.

The designation is expected to open economic opportunities for the regions chosen by the FAA.

As the United States works to integrate drones into its own commercial air space, the economic potential is estimated to be $89 billion worldwide during the next decade, Scassero said.

Drones have potential to be used in agriculture stateside, he said before Monday’s announcement, and more broadly in search and rescue missions, for cargo deliveries, and to measure the scope of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

The University System of Maryland is establishing a footprint locally through the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center in California. The local campus may grow in the coming years to include a business incubator that could be tied to the FAA’s unmanned aircraft system test designation.

“Today’s announcement is excellent news for the Mid-Atlantic Region,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md, 5th) said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to the collaboration between University System of Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers University; strong federal assets, including Pax River Naval Air Station, Webster Field, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, NASA Langley Research Center, and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren; and support from industry partners, the region was strongly positioned for this important designation.”

Hoyer said he was pleased to work with the governors of Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey “as well as our three universities, in establishing the MOU between the three states, and I look forward to partnering as we move forward with this initiative. Not only will this test site designation allow us to research and test how we can safely and efficiently integrate UAS technology into our nation’s airspace, but it will also spur job creation and economic growth throughout the region.”