In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site locations in seven climatic zones. New York’s site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace. And Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases, Huerta said.
The extent that lobbying influenced the selection of the sites was unclear.
“Politics likely always plays a role in some level in this, but I couldn’t tell you specifically what the politics were,” said Brendan M. Schulman, part of a New York City-based law group focused on drone issues. “Part of the selection … is an evaluation of the dedication and seriousness the sites were showing in pursuing this.”
The testing will determine whether drones can detect and avoid aircraft and other obstacles, and if they can operate safety when contact is lost with operators.
The growing use of drones has sparked criticism among conservatives and liberals who fear the creation of a surveillance state in which authorities track and scrutinize every move of citizens.
“I just don’t like the concept of drones flying over barbecues in New York to see whether you have a Big Gulp in your backyard or whether you are separating out your recyclables according to the city mandates,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., referring to a New York City ban on supersized soft drinks.
Paul has introduced a bill that would prohibit drones from checking for criminal or regulatory violations without a warrant.
Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention, and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.
That policy provided little comfort for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Someday drones will be commonplace in U.S. skies and, before that happens, it’s imperative that Congress enact strong, nationwide privacy rules,” ACLU attorney Catherine Crump said in a statement.