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Air, trade expo ends, focus turns to drones

Ohio Unmanned Aerial Systems Conference coming to Dayton in August; area has not had an expo since 2009 air show.

A growing Ohio Unmanned Aerial Systems Conference will expand to the Dayton Convention Center in an emerging industry officials hope will bring more jobs to the Dayton-Springfield region despite the loss of being one of six coveted federal drone test sites nationwide.

The Aug. 26-28 conference is expected to draw hundreds of drone industry employers and experts to the Convention Center and Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton.

As the Ohio UAS conference gears up to expand, another that once had high hopes will disband. Late Wednesday, officials with the United States Air, Trade and Technology Expo Inc. voted to dissolve the non-profit. The Expo had one trade show in 2009 at the Dayton International Airport during the air show. Officials hoped to have one every two years, but it didn’t because of government and corporate cutbacks that weakened the market, said Kent D. Owsley, president of the U.S. Air, Trade and Technology Expo Inc.

The groups that formed the organization, the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association and the local chapters of the Air Force Association and the National Industrial Defense Association, will put their efforts toward building the UAS conference and industry, he said.

“This is just the heartbeat of UAS,” Owsley said.

The push to tap into an industry set to launch to higher employment and revenues continues unabated, those interviewed Thursday said, even as the Federal Aviation Administration overlooked a joint Ohio and Indiana bid to land a UAV test site to integrate drones into civilian airspace by September 2015.

“Regionally, what we’re working toward is trying to build an attractive location for all the activity that could grow up around the UAS industry,” said Chris Ford, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of defense. “The really big growth will happen after the integration (of drones) into the national airspace.”

Ben Gielow, general counsel of the Association of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles International in Arlington, Va., said it’s yet to be determined the full impact of losing out on a test site.

“We will eventually get to the integration phase and when we do the companies that have really built up the support of the industry will benefit the most,” he said.

“This is a potential market and its dependent on FAA regulation,” he said. “We’re probably one of the few industries begging the federal government to regulate us.”

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and university research, college UAS training, and a field of aerospace and data companies give the area a strong footing, officials said. An AUVSI study has projected the UAS industry will create 2,700 jobs and have a $2.1 billion impact in Ohio by 2025.

“All those capabilities exist in this region and we will still be the go-to region,” said Maurice “Mo” McDonald, Dayton Development Coalition executive vice president of aerospace and defense and a conference organizer.

Spending on drone industry to reach nearly $90 billion by 2023

The Teal Group estimates spending on the UAS industry will reach $89.5 billion for the decade in total by 2023. Precision agriculture and first responders will take the biggest chunk of the market and export markets will expand as other nations field their own programs, officials said.

“The prospects over the next decade is of strong growth in the industry,” said Phillip Finnegan, a Teal Group analyst in Fairfax, Va. “There’s a bit of pressure now because of the recent defense budget cuts but we see it abating and the outlook for the industry improving.”

At SelectTech GeoSpatial, sales are at least steady or growing and the workforce has grown by about 25 percent the past two years, said Frank Beafore, executive director of the manufacturing center in Springfield.

“The fact that we did not get tapped for the (FAA) test area did not affect us at all,” he said. He estimated more than 1,000 workers in the Dayton-Springfield region are employed in UAS work, outside of the federal government.

The company plans to be a vendor at the UAS conference, which has grown from 420 attendees in 2012 to 660 last year.

“It’s exploding,” Beafore said of the gathering. “Will it plateau and go the other way? Probably sometime down the road. But right now, three years (in), it has increased significantly.”

In a first for the upcoming conference, up to a dozen collegiate teams will compete for a share of $15,000 in prize money in an indoor UAV fly-off contest. The Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Institute of Technology sponsored the competition to develop a future workforce, said Eric Vinande, an AFRL engineer organizing the contest.

Teams will program computer algorithms to autonomously fly the drones through rooms to report the coordinates of a ball. “There’s no human in the loop once they press go,” he said.

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