The Ohio Senate approved a resolution demanding the FAA choose Ohio as one of the six UAS test sites the agency has to select by mid-2012 for integration into the National Airspace System.
Getting one of these six sites is a high-stakes game potentially worth tens of billions of dollars in new investment as one of the hubs for the drone industry.
The Pentagon is slated to buy 730 medium and large unmanned aircraft systems from now until 2020, for which they will be spending about $36.9 billion.
The past is just as good an indicator of the growing clout of this economy – just visit the 1.9 million sq ft General Atomics Aeronautical Systems plant in Poway, CA where 3,300 workers make the Predator and Reaper drones used in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Southern California‘s $20 billion drone industry already employs 10,000 people.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, because as military spending builds up the infrastructure, the industry is now waking up to potential applications in border patrols, law enforcement, agriculture and disaster relief.
A Teal Group report published last year found that UAV annual spending will double over the next decade from $5.9 billion to $11.3 billion, totaling just over $94 billion in the next ten years.
This is where the FAA and the U.S. Congress come into the picture. If the industry is to succeed, they need airspace. The FAA Re-Authorization Act passed recently requires the FAA to establish a program for UAS test ranges.
Specifically, they need to get started by mid-2012 and establish 6 sites where UAS will be integrated into the National Airspace System. Whichever site(s) are approved will instantly become hubs for all future spending in the drone industry – that’s $94 billion by 2020.
At least 10 states are now willing to rip each other apart to get hold of one of these six precious sites. Ohio has Congressman Mike Turner (OH-3) – Chairman of the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, who is pushing for Wilmington Air Park.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is pushing for drone flights at Hancock Field in Mattydale, New York. Schumer said that “making Hancock a test site for this technology would be a boon for Central New York, creating jobs and bringing new investments to our defense contractors that provide thousands of good paying jobs.”
Arizona is already a prime contender, being home to Fort Huachuca, which is currently the world’s busiest “drone airport.” They even setup an advisory committee that has very helpfully identified three prime locations in Arizona for a UAS test range, including two that provide unrestricted airspace.
At the very minimum, the test sites will be spending the $1 billion that Congress allocated to kickstart the UAS integration process with the National Airspace System. Then there is the $4.8 billion the 2012 DoD budget includes for UAVs. So we’re looking at $5.8 billion in guaranteed federal spending in 2012, and increasingly more in the years to follow.