Getting a Commercial Drone Business Off the Ground

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The drone rush is on. Entrepreneurs looking to get in on The Next Big Thing are scrambling to get their drone operations off the ground. Now, if only the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would stop dragging its feet.

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This week, the University of Alaska's unmanned aircraft system (UAS) became the second of six FAA test sites to become operational. The project is seeking to prove how drones can accurately locate, identify, and survey large wild animals. Other test sites with varying UAS purposes will be located in Nevada, New York's Griffiss International Airport, North Dakota, Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi and Virginia Tech.

"These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a release announcing the sites in December.

"These vehicles are revolutionary, I think we all understand that," FAA Director Mark Huerta said at a press conference during the rollout of the Alaska test site. "We all see the potential but we need to make sure that pilots are properly trained and we also need to make sure that unmanned aircraft sense and avoid other aircraft and that they operate safely if they lose the link to their operator."

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The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Integration which operates the University of Alaska's drone program has a list of projects including volcano flybys and marine mammal surveying that collects data by flying through whale spouts.

While Amazon, FedEx and even Domino's Pizza have made PR splashes with their drone dreams, today's UAS entrepreneurs aren't waiting for federal approval to launch their endeavors. A Little Rock, Ark. television station used a photographer's personal drone to obtain aerial footage of tornado damage from recent storms. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports he is being investigated by the FAA.