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Sinclair cleared to fly UAVs at Wilmington Air Park

FAA allows college to fly 2 unmanned aircrafts at the park.

Sinclair Community College has secured authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aerial vehicles in airspace at Wilmington Air Park — a step congressional leaders touted as important to the region’s economic development.

The new designation opens a second site for Sinclair to fly drones and comes just months after the college committed $1.4 million to expand UAV training programs. The certificate of authorization allows the college to fly two state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft at the park and is in addition to approval Sinclair already has at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, said Deborah L. Norris, Sinclair’s vice president for workforce development.

The designation could boost Ohio’s chance to land one of six FAA sites to test UAVs and integrate the unmanned aircraft into civilian manned airspace by 2015, according to Maurice “Mo” McDonald, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of military affairs. Ohio submitted a joint application with Indiana to the FAA in May.

“It sets a precedent here for us in the state of Ohio and the Dayton region that we are leading (UAV development) in the country,” he said.

The FAA test site designation could attract more than 2,000 high-paying jobs to the area and boost the region’s spot in the unmanned aerial systems industry, which is expected to exceed $94 billion worldwide by 2020. With uses in disaster response, agricultural surveying and other areas, more than 105,000 jobs related to drones could be created in the United States in the next 15 years, according to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The region has tried to position itself as a leader in UAV development in the hopes to bring more jobs to the area. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected the area as the single location to launch a $1.5 million two-year contest to develop unmanned aerial systems technology.

At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Air Force Research Laboratory has pushed the development of sense and avoidance technology, a crucial ability to allow UAVs to navigate in civilian airspace. The University of Dayton Research Center for UAS Exploitation, the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson and Defense Research Associates in Beavercreek are some of the organizations that have led cutting edge UAV-related research.

Sinclair is among only a handful of colleges nationwide to offer drone training programs, and the first community college in Ohio to receive a certificate of authorization from the FAA. President Steven Johnson said the college’s role is to be “a supplier of the workforce that this quickly developing industry will desperately need in the coming years.”

Under the certificate of authorization, a FAA-certified pilot must operate the aircraft within sight and students can observe, Norris said. Sinclair also will be able to partner with businesses looking to test the drones and their sensors, she said. For instance, one of the college’s certificates of authorization covers a UAV with a 30-inch wingspan partially manufactured locally by SelectTech Geospatial, which has its main manufacturing facility at the Springfield airport.

“Without airspace, you don’t fly,” Norris said. “This allows us, following FAA guidelines and requirements, to be able to operate. This signals to the marketplace that this is really an important strategic initiative to us.”

U.S. Rep. Michael Turner, R-Dayton, said the FAA selection of Sinclair recognizes the area’s UAV technical expertise.

“I certainly believe it establishes a record of both capability and assets within our community that have been identified as essential for advancing UAV studies and technologies,” he said in an interview.

Ohio’s two U.S. senators said the certificate, which is good for two years, was important to establish the region as a national leader.

“As the FAA moves forward in establishing six national test sites for UAS integration, this should further demonstrate our region’s capacity and experience in safely flying unmanned systems,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement.

“Not only will this new air space strengthen the Unmanned Aerial Systems program at Sinclair, it gives the college the opportunity to partner with industry and help bring new economic development to the area,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement.

Norris said obtaining the designation for the Wilmington Air Park took eight months.

“It is going into national air space, so it’s a big deal,” Norris said.

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