The Federal Aviation Administration is on track to select by the end of the year six sites where it can test unmanned aerial vehicles, said a representative of an industry trade group.
That will still be 16 months beyond the congressional mandate that the agency was given in 2012. The test sites are expected to pave the way to full integration of remotely piloted aircraft in national airspace, which lawmakers want to happen by 2015.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that the economic impact of U.S. airspace integration will total more than $13.6 billion in the first three years and will grow sustainably for the foreseeable future, cumulating to more than $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2025.
“Every year that airspace integration is delayed, the United States loses more than $10 billion in potential economic impact. This translates to a loss of $27.6 million per day that [unmanned aerial systems] are not integrated in U.S. airspace,” said AUVSI spokesperson Melanie Hinton.
The test sites are envisioned as places where remotely piloted aircraft can fly with few restrictions, and crucial data on the technologies that will allow them to travel among regular air traffic are gathered. One of the main issues is how unmanned aircraft will sense other aircraft and take corrective measures to avoid collisions — better known as sense-and-avoid systems.
John Porcari, deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation, said at the AUVSI conference in August that the FAA had received 25 proposals from public organizations in 24 states, but the agency would not be choosing the finalists until the end of the year.
Hinton said the number of applicants is closer to 30.
One of the hopefuls, the state of Utah, undertook a study that explains why so many localities are interested in hosting test sites.
The economic impact to the state being chosen would mean more than 23,000 new jobs adding up to $12 billion in wages, $720 million in new tax revenues and an overall $23 billion in total economic impact over 10 years, the study said.
Hinton said industry will create more than 70,000 new jobs in the first three years after the aircraft are allowed to fly in U.S. airspace. By 2025, total job creation is estimated at 103,776, and the bulk of these jobs are in the high-paying manufacturing sector, she said.
The total tax revenue to the states is expected to exceed $635 billion in the first 11 years, she said. Chart Credit: Federal Aviation Administration