Oregon among drone testing sites for civilian use

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announced its selection of six operators of test sites where drone research and testing will occur, and Oregon is among them.

The idea is to research the requirements necessary to safely integrate drones, or unmanned aircraft systems, into U.S. airspace.

The testing will be led by the University of Alaska and will include help from Oregon State University. According to OSU, three areas in Oregon will be used for the testing of the unmanned aircraft. They are the Warm Springs Reservation, the ocean off the coast of Tillamook and near Pendleton.

"This will help put OSU and the state of Oregon on the map for the future of unmanned aerial systems," said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU, in a news release. "As one of only six test sites in the nation, we'll be able to fly UAVs more freely and actively, get our students involved in an evolving industry, and help Oregon take advantage of research, development and manufacturing that will be needed."

The Oregon sites will be grouped together in what will be called the Pan-Pacific Test Site, which will also include sites in Alaska and Hawaii, according to OSU.

The five other test-site operators were chosen in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

OSU says the Pan-Pacific Test Site will provide valuable terrain in which testing can be conducted, including mountains, rivers, volcanoes and tropical islands.

Greg Walker, the director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the Alaska test sites will include work in the Interior on how to integrate drones in and around airports and at Prudhoe Bay and on how to safely integrate the technology into an industrial environment. He said the center was working with Oregon and Hawaii on what officials there want to do with their sites.

Walker said his team in Alaska has been far ahead of most of the rest of the country in studying how drone technology can be used for civilian activities. It has been researching the viability of use of drones for things like oil spill response, wildlife surveys, highway construction and fisheries management, he said.

FAA's decision will open more opportunities to expand the research, he said.

Many people are concerned drones will invade people's privacy. In its statement, the FAA said there will be strict controls.

"From the start, the FAA recognized it was important to have requirements ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are protected at the test sites," it said. "Among other requirements, test site operators must comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual's right to privacy, have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention, and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment."

The FAA spent 10 months reviewing proposals from 24 states before it made its decision.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.