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Drone test range would mean 2K jobs in Ohio, Dayton

With help from the Dayton Development Coalition, Ohio is making its best case as to why the Dayton-Springfield area should be designated a drone test site — with nearly 2,000 high-paying new jobs at stake, according to industry estimates.

The final “volume” or submission to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site Selection process is due Monday. This seventh and latest volume concerns the economic impact being designated an aerial drone test site would have on the area and Ohio.

“It’s probably a couple of thousands of jobs, and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dennis Andersh, SAIC senior vice president and Dayton-area executive.

Test, flight and development engineers would be needed for the new test site, Andersh said. Machinists, fabricators and other professionals also would be needed, he said.

SAIC itself has added some 200 jobs to the Dayton area “in the last few years” with an eye on the test designation and other reasons, Andersh said.

The FAA will choose six test ranges for studying how to bring drones into piloted airspace by 2015. The agency has already received proposals from 50 organizations in 37 states and may make a decision by the end of the year.

“There are no front runners,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said of competing states. “The door is wide open.”

A March report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Ohio stands to gain 1,844 jobs by 2017 by being winning a designation. The economic impact through 2017 would reach $359 million, with tax revenue reaching $2.43 million by then.

Last year, the Teal Group estimated spending on drones will almost double over the next decade from $6.6 billion a year to $11.4 billion, hitting just over $89 billion in the next ten years.

State and local leaders have envisioned using existing facilities at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and the Wilmington Air Park for the takeoff and recovery of commercial and civil drones during the testing period. Springfield also wants to build a new hangar complex at the airport to accommodate aerospace companies looking to locate here.

Springfield is already home is home to companies working on unmanned aerial systems, including SelectTech at the Springfield airport and SAIC at Nextedge Research and Technology Park. At SAIC’s new Springfield location, it builds UAS payloads with help from local suppliers.

A coalition spokeswoman referred questions to the state. Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, declined comment until the state completes the application process. “It’s still a competitive process, a very competitive process,” Nichols said.

But Turner believes Ohio and the Dayton region have key advantages. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — the hub of Air Force research and development and Ohio’s largest single-site employer — is nearby.

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