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FAA formally seeks proposals for drone test sites

A Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk sits on display during an arrival ceremony for the aircraft on Grand Forks Air Force Base on June 1, 2011. Christian Randolph/Grand Forks Herald

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a request Thursday for proposals to host one of six research and test sites for integrating unmanned aircraft with manned aircraft.

North Dakota is among 26 states competing to be host. The FAA's request was directed to states and local government, eligible universities and other public entities.

Applicants have 80 days to submit proposals to the FAA; the agency will select winners later this year.

"We expect to learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a news release. "The test sites will also inform the agency as we develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air traffic requirements."

"Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world's largest aviation system," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies."

The wider use of UAS also will require ensuring privacy is appropriately protected, the FAA said.

Legislation requiring the FAA to establish the test sites was introduced by former Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who, along with other state leaders, have lobbied the agency to pick North Dakota.

The Grand Forks region, home to military and border control unmanned aircraft, and UAS programs at UND and Northland Community and Technical College, has also been busy making itself a UAS hub.

UND and the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Department are among 81 institutions or agencies that have applied for FAA authorization to operate unmanned aircraft.

Last year, the university organized a UAS Research Compliance Committee, the first of its kind in the nation, to sort through ethical and privacy issues involved in integrating drones into the national airspace.