The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that as many as 7,500 commercial drones -- ranging in size from the large wingspan of a Boeing 737 to a small radio-controlled model airplane -- will be hovering in the US airspace by 2018.
Beyond the military, there are numerous potential uses for drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), such as law enforcement, storm tracking, search and rescue, and aerial surveying. But managing drones domestically comes with its own challenges, which still need to be addressed by the US government and the private companies involved.
The FAA in December set up six sites to test drone operations around the country. The congressionally mandated sites are tasked with conducting research into the certification and operational requirements for safely integrating commercial drones into the national airspace. The six sites include the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University/Corpus Christi, Virginia Tech, and Griffiss International Airport in Rome, New York.
The FAA's move to set up drone test locations follows the release of a roadmap in November, addressing current and future policies, regulations, and procedures that will be required as drones continue to become more mainstream. "We have made great progress in accommodating public UAS operations, but challenges remain for the safe long-term integration of both public and civil UAS in the national airspace system," FAA administrator Michael Huerta said in the document's introductory letter.
(Source: United States Navy)
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— Elena Malykhina writes for Information Week. Her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Scientific America, Newsday, and the Associated Press.