Alamosa County has just received approval for two COA's allowing UAV/UAS testing over a 8000 square mile area of South Central Colorado.
The first COA is good from the surface to 15,000 MSL. Autonomous operations, being chased by a manned aircraft. Operations to be announced via Distant Notams. There is no radar coverage for the entire area below 15K.
There are five more COA's in the application process. Supposedly a lot more companies in line, now that the precident has been set.
Here is how it is supposed to work: Alamosa County leases the platform from the UAS company. That platform now becomes a Public Use Aircraft, owned and operated by Alamosa County, via the UAS company, for testing.
Here is something I don't agree with:
According to the Regs, Public Use Aircraft are not supposed to be used for commercial purposes. The surrounding Counties are actively pursuing collecting fees for the use of their airports and the airspace overhead from the UAS companies. See this article in a local paper:

[url]www.crestoneeagle.com/saguache-countys-leach-airport-approved-to-test-commercial-unmanned-aircraft-drones/[url]

From AC 00 1.1A Public Use Aircraft:

"c. What Constitutes a “Commercial Purpose” that Removes Someone from PAO Status? In general, the FAA interprets the commercial purpose prohibition in 49 U.S.C. § 40125(a)(1) to mean that there can be no type of reimbursement to government entities for PAO, except under the one set of specific circumstances described in that section. Specific instances of whether an operation has a commercial purpose may be submitted for interpretation to the FAA Office of the Chief Counsel, International Law, Legislation, and Regulations Division (see Appendix 2). As detailed in Paragraph 8 above, a government entity may contract with a private operator (and pay that operator) to conduct a PAO on behalf of the government entity. The statutory prohibition on commercial purpose prevents a government entity from getting paid or reimbursed to operate a PAO, not for paying for contracted services."

The company that initiated this program with Alamosa County is known as UAS Colorado, a 501 c(3) nonprofit. They helped with the COA process. Now that the first COA's have been approved, the principals (they are the same people) in the COA application process have switched to using Rocky Mountain UAS, for profit LLC. Rocky Mountain UAS will charge UAS companies for the COA application process!!

When the issue of the Drone testing area came up a couple of years ago, I ran it by AOPA. Their response was that it did not meet the definition of Public Use Aircraft, couldn't happen. Now that it is reality, AOPA's stance is "if the FAA has approved it, it is OK by us". Repeated emails asking about the commercial use part of it have gone unanswered by AOPA.

Here is the biggest issue: Now that the FAA has allowed a Government Entity their own UAV/UAS Test site, there is nothing out there to stop other Government Entities from doing the same. These test sites could be popping up all over the Country.

Win/win for the FAA as the owner of Public Use Aircraft certifies the airworthiness and assumes all responsibility. Great way for the FAA to get out of the mess they got themselves into, IMHO.

Tom