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Drone test flights surveying wildlife start in Alaska: FAA

By Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The second of six U.S. test sites chosen to perform unmanned aircraft systems, or drone research started operations on Monday in Alaska, surveying wildlife, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said.

The University of Alaska in Fairbanks was give a two-year authorization for animal surveys using an Aeryon Scout small drone built by Canada's Aeryon Labs.

The main purpose of the operation is to show how a drone can accurately locate, identify and count large wild animals, such as caribou, reindeer, musk ox and bear for survey operations requested by the state of Alaska.

The program "includes a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones, so it will give us a wealth of data to help develop appropriate safety regulations and standards," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.

The Aeryon Scout is a tiny aircraft that weighs 3 pounds (1.4 kg) without payload, performs vertical takeoffs and landings and requires no launch equipment. It is designed to fly at up to 500 feet above ground level at speeds up to 31 miles an hour.

Flights in North Dakota to aid agricultural research, including checking soil quality and the status of crops, were also expected to start this week, the FAA said on April 21.

Other test sites, chosen from 25 applicants, are in Nevada, New York, Texas and Virginia.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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