FAA drone waiver adds to region’s reputation as aerospace innovator

State and local leaders will gather today at a Springfield airport to deliver news that Dayton- and Springfield-area drone researchers have long awaited.

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted a “certificate of waiver or authorization” to the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory for beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight of unmanned aerial systems — also known as “drones” — at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport.

Being allowed to fly drones beyond an operator’s visual line of sight greatly expands the kinds of research that can be performed in Southwestern Ohio.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is scheduled to visit the Springfield airport Friday for the official announcement, according to the Dayton Development Coalition. The event will not be open to the public.

A coalition spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the announcement Thursday. An FAA spokeswoman referred questions to the Air Force. A message was also sent to a Wright Patterson Air Force Base spokesman. AFRL is based at Wright-Patterson.

Loren Thompson, a nationally consulted defense industry analyst and chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute, said the Dayton-Springfield region may be the only region in the nation with FAA authorization for this kind of drone research.

“This is the latest step in Dayton’s continued emergence as an aerospace innovation center,” he said Thursday. “Unmanned aircraft are the wave of the future in aerospace, and now the Dayton area will have a major flight testing facility.”

Drones are a prime example of “dual-use” technology — technology that can be employed for both military and civilian purposes.

Today, drones are flown in numerous ways, used in aerial photography and sensing, patrolling borders, fighting forest fires, inspecting bridges and underpasses, even improving one’s tennis game.

The Air Force and other military branches have long used drones in combat and battlefield reconnaissance situations.

“The possibilities are endless,” Thompson said.

Thompson said this kind of research may go on at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. But for drone work in civilian airspace, Thompson said he is not aware of another site in the United States that has received the kind of authorization being bestowed on Springfield-Beckley for the AFRL.

“We are absolutely just scratching the surface,” Maurice “Mo” McDonald, the coalition’s executive vice president for aerospace and defense, told the Dayton Daily News in 2018. “We are truly only limited by our imagination as far as how you can use UAVs.”

Also expected to be on hand Friday are Jack Blackhurst, AFRL executive director; Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted; U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy; U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton; Scott Gardner, manager of emerging technologies at the FAA; Jeff Hoagland, coalition president and chief executive and J.P. Nauseef, president and CIO at JobsOhio.

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