Virginia is one of three states throwing support behind three universities' bid to collaborate on a test site for unmanned aerial vehicles -- commonly known as drones.
Gov. Bob McDonnell joined forces with Govs. Martin O'Malley, a Maryland Democrat, and Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican. They wrote Friday to federal transportation and aviation officials, conveying their "commitment for our three states to jointly support" the goal to establish six sites for the "integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS)."
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 enacted by Congress calls for establishing six unmanned aircraft system research and testing sites in the U.S.
The University System of Maryland and Rutgers University agreed to collaborate with Virginia Tech to bid for a test site.
"Our leading research and education institutions, which have been involved in cooperative unmanned system research for decades, have signed a memorandum of understanding pledging their mutual support for each other regardless of who is awarded a test site designation," the letter says.
It continues: "The establishment of our joint test site team presents an opportunity to provide better research and test capabilities, leading to an efficient integration effort, as well as combining strengths to support the economies of our region."
While a vast percentage of the work conducted to date has been accomplished under defense programs, future work on the integration of drones into the national airspace will be implemented through a combination of federal, state and local government resources, academic institutions, and industry and aviation assets, according to a joint news release by the three universities.
The FAA is expected to select the sites by year's end.
"The real strength of our combined efforts is in our technical approach as a team. Between our university facilities, our NASA and Department of Defense installations, and our industry and airport partners, we have a high-caliber team that has been involved in this work for decades," said Robert Walters, vice president of research at Virginia Tech.
"Being able to bring that capability to the table without having to form those relationships will save time and money," Walters said, "and produce a better outcome for all of us."
At this point, it remains unclear if the plan would violate the two-year moratorium on the use of drones, passed by the Virginia legislature this year.
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