By Jenny Espino Record Searchlight, April 2013

day after Redding officials’ late-night debate on drone testing in the
north state, a months-long wait begins to hear which six sites will be
selected to study how the pilotless technology can be incorporated into
domestic airspace.

the city’s vote expressing interest, Ventura County, the lead
applicant, now has heard back from all its potential partners spread
across the state. It submits its final sets of data to the Federal
Aviation Administration on May 6. Included are an economic impact
analysis that California Lutheran University is working on and letters
of interest from its partners.

The emerging technology will be tested for a period of five years.

whole idea behind it is to learn we can be part of what the future
policies can be by being involved and having our own experiences,” said
Rod Dinger, Redding airports director.

The potential of seeing drones buzzing in the skies continues to stir fears about safety and surveillance.

Ventura already has filed a privacy policy draft with the FAA. It is purely to provide some baseline information in crafting policies the federally-designated test sites will have to follow and fine tune.

The drones would fly over unpopulated areas, have time restrictions and be allowed to collect only certain data. Those fly tests are expected to help shape privacy policies.

“A farmer or rancher who is using a system — the application won’t have privacy gathering information on them,” said Bill Buratto, president and chief executive officer for Ventura County Economic Development Association.

Similarly, if the drone will be used by utility or gas company workers, there is no need to collect information other than that from electric lines or pipelines, Buratto said.

In Redding, the smaller remotely piloted aircraft systems could fly east of the airport, about 450 feet over open spaces. They could be observed by air traffic managers.

The path of the larger drones would be different. They could depart Southern California and follow the restricted air highway Ventura has traced from Camarillo and Oxnard, along the coast and then inland through a 3-mile-wide corridor up
the San Joaquin Valley to far Northern California.

It would land at the Redding airport, be fueled and stored, said Dinger, who also noted the economic benefits of that set-up.

“Those people (operating the aircraft) would be living in Redding, possibly in a transient type of situation out of a hotel, but they would be eating here and renting cars,” he said.

One of the key arguments Ventura makes in its application is it can offer diverse environments for testing. The state has oceans, forests and mountainous terrain.

Some of the testing in northern California would include the Maxwell and Whitmore military operations areas, which have restricted airspace. Maxwell is in Colusa County and the Whitmore location is northeast of Shingletown, about 20 nautical
miles east of Benton Airpark. They are under the control of the Oakland Air Route Traffic Control Center.

said there will be plenty of opportunities to put the focus on privacy
concerns and hammer out policy uses for the technology.

could be a licensing and registration of each of the vehicles,” he
said. “Just like you can’t operate a motor vehicle on one of the
highways without your own license, as well as registration and
insurance, you could have those sort of things so it’s not just anybody
grabbing something and using it.

“We still have a long way to go. This is one step.”