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eye in the sky logoThe Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, the agency said.

drone meeting Julian

“This is a HUGE win for citizens action group, Back Country Voices!'” 
It just goes to show what a small group of citizens can accomplish when they make their voices heard,” said Lisa Elkins, San Diego County resident and group member.

 Back Country Voices actively opposed San Diego County as a drone testing site due to lack of regulations. By writing to Congress, State and local officials, and by hosting public venues that including panelist from the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, San Diego Veterans for Peace,  firefighters, pilots, and others, this small group of concerned citizens actually made an impact.

In a letter to the Superior Court of California: Concerned citizens of San Diego County want to express our position regarding the privacy policies required by the Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed rule and made necessary by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) for the County of San Diego, CA.

The introduction of Unmanned Aircraft Systems by the FAA into the National Airspace creates unavoidable privacy concerns which the FAA is required to address. We understand the FAA has considered the privacy problems and violations that have been raised by the UAS test site selection process. However, as one of the possible tests sites, the FAA and Congress has failed to address and pass the numerous bills proposed on privacy concerns. Therefore, we the citizens of San Diego County firmly object to the FAA’s consideration of Southern California being a testing site for UAS.  – ‘Back Country Voices’

“We acknowledge drones have many useful purposes, but the FAA and legislature neglected to implement the necessary safety and privacy regulations that govern the way surveillance is used. There is still a lot of work to be done and we will do our level best to see that our civil liberties are protected,” said Lisa Elkins.

one-nation-under-surveillanceDrones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. Many universities are starting or expanding drone programs.

“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The FAA said when selecting the sites it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

In the case of Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones. New York’s site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace.

The state of North Dakota already has committed $5 million to the venture and named a former state Air National Guard Commander as its test site director.

The FAA projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace.

The FAA estimated that 30,000 drones would be operating in U.S. airspace by 2020.

“Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned systems into U.S. airspace,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “We have successfully brought new technology into the nation’s aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft.”

An industry-commissioned study has predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000.

Representatives from winning states were jubilant about the FAA announcement.

“This is wonderful news for Nevada that creates a huge opportunity for our economy,” said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

The growing drone industry has critics among conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to U.S. skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities,” the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.