States Could See Big Windfall If Chosen for FAA Unmanned Aircraft Test Site

By Stew Magnuson
The State of Utah undertook a study to determine the economic impact of hosting one of six new Federal Aviation Administration test sites for unpiloted aircraft. The tally: 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.
John Porcari, deputy secretary at the federal Department of Transportation, said 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.
“We're encouraged by the collaborative and comprehensive approach that many of the applicants have adopted,” he said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International conference in Washington, D.C.
Congress mandated that the agency choose six test sites that will help facilitate the full integration of remotely piloted or autonomous aircraft into U.S. skies by August 2012. It has long missed that deadline.
The FAA must be able to accommodate unmanned aerial systems in the national airspace by 2015. 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.
As the Utah study underscored, the decision is highly anticipated.
Michael O’Malley, marketing director at the State of Utah’s governor’s office of economic development, shrugged his shoulders when asked if he was disappointed that the decision would be delayed until the end of the year.
“It is what it is. We have been in this process for the long haul. We are committed to this industry regardless of the timeline,” he said.
Utah was one the first states to exhibit six years ago at the AUVSI show to promote itself as a good place for robot manufacturers and developers to do business.
“We are interested in this market, regardless of the actions of the FAA,” he told National Defense. “We have a very strong aerospace, aviation, defense and composites industry cluster.”
Utah is proposing three different sites, two in its western desert, and one in the center of the state, totaling 12,000 square miles with a ceiling of 58,000 feet.
Other public entities who made their way to the conference to tout their suitability as an FAA test site included, Arizona, Idaho, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, a New York-Massachusetts consortium and the city of Salina, Kan.
Porcari’s comments about the selection process focused on privacy issues, which have come to the fore over the past year as the fears of government overreach into citizens’ lives have grown.
“We know that privacy is an issue foremost in people's minds,” he said in a speech, while  acknowledging that ethics is not the agency’s true expertise.
“It is a legitimate issue. It's one that we take very seriously, but it is one that, for a safety agency, is outside the normal lanes of safety, but we realize we need to tackle it together," he said.
Each site operator will have to abide by all local, state and federal laws protecting an individual's right to privacy, he said. The department has been reaching out to the public for feedback. It has held a listening session on privacy issues, received more than 100 comments, and is sorting through them now, he added.
“We hope to have a final policy out soon. We realize that a privacy framework that encompasses all elements of [unmanned aerial systems] is a necessary precursor for integration into the national airspace system," he said. 

Topics: Aviation, Robotics, Homeland Security, Unmanned Air Vehicles

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