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Southwest Ohio Passed Over For Drone Testing

Lewis Wallace

 Southwest Ohio was passed over as a drone test site. On December 30, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it will develop test sites for unmanned vehicles in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, which the agency says together provide the necessary climatic and geographic diversity for testing.

The decision is a disappointment for state and local leaders and industry. Earlier this year, Ohio and Indiana submitted a 6,000-page joint proposal in hopes of becoming one of six sites where the FAA would test commercial drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). A drone testing facility in Springfield would have been at the center of the two-state testing range, which would also have made use of sites in Wilmington and in southern Indiana.

The testing designation gives limited geographic areas an early pass to fly commercial drones under FAA supervision, which many believed would bring new economic activity to the area as the drone industry expands. Currently, only hobbyists and those with special permits are permitted to fly drones in federal air space, which means most commercial and industrial testing takes place in private hangars.

Local and state officials believe UAVs will be an economic boon even without the test site, and the state has already invested millions in economic development for commercial drones and related industries. An economic impact for over $2 billion from commercial drones is expected by 2025.

A press release from U.S. Rep. Mike Turner (R-10th), whose district is at the center of Ohio’s proposed site, downplayed the significance of the decision.

“The FAA is a regulatory agency simply charged with establishing the rules and regulations necessary for safe operations in the National Airspace System,” Turner said in the release. “The Dayton community in cooperation with WPAFB has postured itself to pursue major research and development opportunities in an effort to create new economic opportunities for Ohio. We will continue to focus our energy on economic development and look forward to assisting the FAA with its rule making task.”

Dayton's mayor was more forward in expressing what the loss means for the area.

“We are very disappointed with the FAA’s decision to not include the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex,“ Mayor Gary Leitzell said in a statement Monday. “I certainly think Dayton is well-suited for this opportunity, and it was our hope to officially continue at the forefront of unmanned aircraft systems.”

Drone testing is just one part of the FAA’s plan for integrating drones into national air space by 2015. The six test sites will help the agency evaluate safety, environmental impacts and privacy issues.