Maryland has agreed to work with Virginia and New Jersey on research into unmanned aircraft, a move that could strengthen Maryland's bid to land one of the six drone test sites to be awarded this year by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The three states are among the 25 finalists seeking an FAA-sanctioned site to study how unmanned aircraft might safely be integrated into U.S. airspace. The FAA is scheduled to announce the six winners by Dec. 31.
In a letter this week to the heads of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cite decades of cooperation between the University System of Maryland, Virginia Tech and Rutgers, and say they will work together regardless of which wins the FAA designation.
O'Malley called their memorandum of understanding "an exciting agreement between three world-class educational institutions" that "positions the Mid-Atlantic region as the ideal location for an unmanned aircraft systems test site."
Maryland's test site proposal, submitted to the FAA earlier this year, brings together the University of Maryland campuses in College Park, Baltimore County and the Eastern Shore, Naval Air Station Patuxent River and its test ranges, Webster Field in St. Mary's County and Crisfield Airport, and businesses and community groups.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, in whose Southern Maryland district much of the activity would occur, said the agreement between the universities "significantly strengthens our bid" for the FAA designation.
"With the presence of three outstanding higher education institutions, federal facilities such as Pax River Naval Air Station and Webster Field, and strong industry partners, I'm optimistic that we are strongly positioned in the bidding process," he said.
O'Malley said the unmanned aircraft industry could bring more than 2,500 well-paying jobs to Maryland over the next 12 years.
The University of Maryland, College Park is the lead agency in the Maryland application for an FAA test site. New Jersey and Virginia submitted a joint proposal, under Virginia Tech, as the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.
After submitting the applications, the three universities agreed that the region's competitive position would be enhanced if they joined together. They have agreed to work as a united joint test team in the event that either or both proposals are selected by the FAA.
O'Malley, a Democrat, and McDonnell and Christie, both Republicans, all are considering running for president in 2016.
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