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September 2, 2014

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FAA clears Nevada for drone test-site flight

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.

RENO — The Federal Aviation Administration has cleared Nevada to begin flying drones under a federal research program into unmanned aerial systems.

FAA officials announced Monday that the state was granted a two-year certificate of authorization to use an Insitu ScanEagle at a Southern Nevada airport.

Plans call for the first flight to take place this summer at the U.S. Department of Energy-owned Desert Rock Airport in Mercury, which is 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

State and federal officials hailed the FAA's decision, saying it would pave the way for the future of commercial aviation in Nevada while providing a boost to the state's economy.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are "the future of aviation, and there is no place better than Nevada to test these technologies safely, and at the same time, bring so many good-paying jobs to our state while doing so," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.

The burgeoning industry could one day produce thousands of unmanned aircraft for use by businesses, farmers and researchers.

Among other things, the research in Nevada will help develop policies and safety requirements so drones can be integrated into the national airspace system.

The FAA authorized the state to conduct a first-responder exercise in which the drone will be the "eyes on scene" during a mock emergency exercise, state officials said. Plans call for the drone to fly at or below 3,000 feet and to be monitored by a mission commander and observer.

"The UAS test sites will help us identify operational goals as well as safety issues we must consider when expanding the use of unmanned aircraft into our airspace," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "The industry is growing exponentially, and we are working hard to make sure it does so safely."

In December, Nevada was named as one of six states by federal officials to develop test sites for drones. It's the third state to gain FAA authorization to fly drones under the national program.

"The authorization to fly is an exciting next step in the process to commercially integrate unmanned systems," Steve Hill, director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said in a statement. "I look forward to Nevada's continued leadership in this emerging industry."

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