The area is poised to take the lead in unmanned aerial vehicle development — and in many ways, it’s already there, Sen. Rob Portman said Friday.
Portman met with regional business and aerospace leaders at engineering and design firm Woolpert, learning more about the company’s growing use of UAVs. He also hailed a Federal Aviation Administration decision to allow Sinclair Community College to fly UAVs at Wilmington Air Park, a former Air Force Base in Clinton County.
Portman, R-Ohio, met with Jeff Hoagland, Dayton Development Coalition president and chief executive, and Dave Hobson, a former U.S. congressman, among others.
The hope is that the FAA decision strengthens the Ohio/Indiana bid to become one of six official FAA unmanned aircraft test sites. The sites will be set up to determine how to integrate UAVs into civilian piloted airspace. Ohio and Indiana submitted a joint bid in May.
“I think it does strengthen the application,” the senator said. Sinclair has demonstrated to the FAA that it has a “world-class” UAV education program, he said.
Federal legislation 18 months ago expanded the number of potential UAV test sites from four to six, and competition is fierce, Portman noted. An FAA decision on the six sites is expected around the end of the year.
Congress instructed the FAA to consider “infrastructure and expertise,” Portman noted.
“That’s really going to help our region,” he said. “There are other areas of the country who want this badly, and have the test sites where unmanned vehicles are able to fly. But we have the expertise. And Sinclair is one reason. Another reason is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
Woolpert and other local contractors are another reason, Portman said.
Randy Carter, Woolpert project director, guided Portman on a tour of the company’s offices off County Line Road. Increasingly, the 100-year-old company is relying on UAVs in survey work, he said.
Traditionally, surveying work happens on the ground. By moving the work into the air, it removes workers from harm’s way and makes surveying less costly, Carter said.
“We really believe at Woolpert that the (UAV) is a technical step in the survey and mapping industry,” Carter said. “It is really going to drive that.”
Portman came away impressed. “They use aircraft and they do ground work. If they could use (UAVs), it would be more cost-effective.”
Steven Johnson, Sinclair president and CEO, thinks the FAA is recognizing the Dayton region’s assets.
“It looks like the pieces are coming together in a very important way,” Johnson said.