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December 18, 2014

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Feds announce Nevada as test site for drone aircraft

Image

Amazon / AP

This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs.

Updated Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 | 9:49 a.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that Nevada is one of six sites nationwide designated for the development of commercial drones, an industry that state leaders estimate could drive about $2.5 billion in economic activity.

“This is wonderful news for Nevada that creates a huge opportunity for our economy...No state makes a better candidate than ours,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement Monday.

“With this application approval, Nevada will continue to lead in new and innovative technologies of the 21st century,” Reid said.

Many industries have been exploring how to exploit drone technology to aid in everything from agricultural applications to Amazon deliveries.

Reid had been using his influence to arrange meetings between the bidders, led by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and FAA officials to press Nevada’s case over the last year. He pitched Nevada's bid to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the last few months.

The bid was a joint effort between state universities and research centers, including UNLV, UNR and the Desert Research Institute, local technology developers, the Nevada National Guard, and state agencies.

“Our state has been preparing for this selection and we are ready to enter this new era of aviation history,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. “With the climate and air space of Nevada, we are uniquely equipped to help expand the development of UAVs.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Nevada’s geography, workforce and strong partnerships with universities make it well suited to host the program. He also raised the specter of intrusions of privacy involving drones.

“I am confident that the FAA, Congress, and the State of Nevada can strike a balance between this opportunity and the development of privacy standards and safeguards that will guarantee the constitutional rights of Nevadans and Americans across the country,” he said.

Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, the bill creating the opportunity to license six sites to test the integration of commercial drones into airspace, in 2012.

Reid had Nevada in mind as a potential host when the law was being drafted, his office reported earlier this year.

Nevada submitted its bid in May. It said the industry had a foothold in the state and that universities and research centers would incorporate drone technology into existing curricula.

Bid drafters also pitched Nevada’s unique air map to the FAA, offering to use a combination of commercial airspace and less heavily trafficked restricted airspace that exists in Nevada because of the state’s many military bases and the Nevada National Security Site.

There were a total of three test ranges and four test sites listed in the state’s application.

The other five selectees, according to the FAA’s announcement, are the University of Alaska, which presented a proposal that includes test areas in Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon; New York’s Griffiss International Airport, located in central New York State; North Dakota’s Department of Commerce; Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University — better known as Virginia Tech — which will conduct tests in Virginia and New Jersey.

Las Vegas Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.

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