When the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA) announced six test sites for future research of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), some people wondered what that meant for all those university programs across the country where UAS have been tested and classes in unmanned flight technology and remote information gathering are being taught.

According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the estimated approximate 300 public universities and law enforcement agencies that have Certificates of Authorization (COA) to use UAS are continuing their functions. Therefore, university programs such as those at Kansas State University and Louisiana State University and dozens of other university programs looking at agricultural uses for UAS are continuing.

The difference between the six official test site operators and their research is that, even though the six sites are public institution operated, these sites provide for commercial activities within certain geographic bounds. As the AUVSI explained, commercial activities/tests programs are what have been prohibited in the past. The criteria for public universities and law enforcement obtaining a COA have not been that strenuous in recent years, but commercial operations have been squashed under the thumb of the FAA.

The six sites for commercial UAS activities are being supervised by the University of Alaska, State of Nevada, New York Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).