Count Oregon among the states vying for one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) test sites.
Officials from Oregon State University, the Economic Development for Central Oregon, local community colleges, the UAV industry and the state aviation department have formed the Unmanned Vehicle System Research Consortium. They are meeting at Oregon State to apply for one of six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test sites.
“The draw is to be a leader in a new and very promising growth industry that beautifully marries university R&D (research and development), industrial know-how and government and commercial market growth,” Rob Holman, a professor in the Oregon State University College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, said in an email to GeoDataPoint.com.
UAVs are expected to revolutionize geodetics, including fields such as remote sensing and LiDAR acquisition, in the next 15 years.
The FAA issued a Screening Information Request (SIR), basically a request for proposals, last week. It is part of the process required by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, issued by the U.S. Congress last year. The mandate says that the FAA must integrate UAVs into the national airspace by 2015.
Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, applauded the issuance of the SIR. He said that states across the country are expected to apply.
“(It) is an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft and creating thousands of American jobs,” Toscan said in a press release. “Whether it is helping search and rescue teams, assisting in disaster response or aiding scientific research, unmanned aircraft extend the human reach and allow us to accomplish dangerous and difficult tasks safely and efficiently.”
The FAA is creating the test sites to gain operational data in order to develop procedures, standards and regulations allowing unmanned systems to fly in U.S. airspace. The sites are required to lead the way toward integrating manned and unmanned flight operations. The sites also are expected to coordinate with NASA and the Defense Department, address civil and public use of unmanned aircraft and ensure safety and navigation procedures, among other tasks.
Proposals, which have multiple submission deadlines with the final report due on May 6, will be evaluated on economic impact, safety, infrastructure, research needs and geographic and climatic diversity. The proposals will be reviewed by a site selection evaluation board and a site selection official, who will make a recommendation to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta. Applicants will be chosen under an amended deadline of Dec. 31, and, if accepted, a deal with the selected sites would be in place until mid-February 2017.
“Looking forward, we expect the data from the test sites will help the FAA expand our global leadership position in aviation safety,” Huerta said in a letter to the aviation community on Feb. 14. “The FAA stands ready to work with test site operators; other federal, state and local authorities; academia; and the (UAV) industry to achieve our mission of the safe, timely and efficient integration of (UAVs).”
This list of qualifications has the Oregon contingent optimistic. The group plans to propose a test site near Bend, Ore.
“Oregon is well-positioned by having unique and varied geography for flight testing, large areas with little competing airspace usage, a very strong industrial base and history in small aviation and a strong technical university with a breadth of experience in relevant technical topics, including extracting knowledge from remote sensing feeds,” Holman said.
Larry Dickerson, senior unmanned vehicles analyst for Newtown, Conn.-based Forecast International, a market research firm specializing in aerospace and defense, estimated the worldwide economic value of unmanned systems at $70.9 billion in the next 10 years. In a research report, Dickerson said U.S.-based companies would account for 41 percent of unmanned systems’ production value, and that number could rise.
Despite those numbers, the U.S. is falling behind other areas of the world in use of unmanned systems, Holman said.
“The broader context is the growth of UAVs as an industry and capability, something that is happening around the world. The U.S. has the technology lead but is behind others in implementation due to concerns about airspace safety and privacy,” he said.