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Southwest Ohio Gears Up For FAA Decision On Drone Testing

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The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to make a decision soon about where to open up air space for the testing of commercial drones. Southwest Ohio is competing to become one of six sites around the country as the FAA prepares to regulate the commercial drone industry by late 2015.

The possibilities for commercial drones are kind of endless—at least if you ask the entrepreneurs. Frank Beafore of SelectTech Geospatial has a long list.

“Disaster management, telecommunications, weather monitoring, making movies, environmental monitoring,” he said.

At Beafore’s hangar at Springfield Airpark, they’re working on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designs that look like little helicopters and little planes. One model with four ‘copter blades on it lifts off smoothly from the warehouse floor, looking like a souped-up kids’ toy.

“The economic benefit is really only limited by our imagination,” said Maurice McDonald with the Dayton Development Coalition. He says these machines could be a driving economic force for the greater Dayton area, bringing in over $2 billion in business by 2025. He hopes there will be thousands of new jobs in research, manufacturing and operations.

Ohio teamed up with Indiana to put in an application for the test range designation this past spring, and it’s in the running against 23 other states. The state has already spent $1.5 million on the test site, which is centered in Springfield but extends south to Wilmington and west into Indiana.

If UAV testingcomes to the region, the hope is that some of the companies in the burgeoning industry will settle here for good. Many of the initial uses are expected to be in precision agriculture: the drones will be able to detect mold, pests or standing water, and target the problems across large industrial farms.

The FAA decision on test sites could come out as soon as this week.