SPRINGFIELD — The city of Springfield wants to build a $2.3 million hangar complex at its airport to attract drone developers.
The city plans to seek $2 million from the state later this year and will pay for the rest with city dollars, said Tom Franzen, the city’s economic development administrator.
“To have something ready and available when someone has an interest is going to give us an edge,” Franzen said.
City officials believe the development of unmanned aerial systems and related programs can bring jobs to the area if the Federal Aviation Administration selects Ohio as a testing site for them later this year. The FAA began the process to select six test areas in March.
The areas will provide data to help the FAA safely integrate routine unmanned flights into manned airspace by 2015.
Maurice McDonald, the Dayton Development Coalition’s vice president of military affairs, said the possibility of a new hangar in Springfield would strengthen Ohio’s pitch to the FAA to make it one of test sites.
“The more capability the region can present to industry and government, the better our chances are,” McDonald said. “I can see it as a benefit to our overall approach.”
The city has joined with the development coalition, the Ohio Air National Guard, Wright-Patterson Air Force Research Labs, regional colleges and other private industries to make the region the hub of all UAS developers.
“We think we’re aligned strategically with that effort,” Franzen said. “We have the assets and the infrastructure. We just need a little bit of help here to put us in the right direction.”
The new complex at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport will house five hangars, including a 20,000-square-foot main hangar, with 4,000 square feet of office space and four 2,000-square foot box hangars.
“The small (unmanned aerial vehicles) is where we see the largest opportunity,” Franzen said. “It gives us some flexibility for what we’re doing.”
In 2011, the airport averaged 27 aircraft operations per day. Currently, the airport has 40 aircraft based there, a majority of which are single-engine planes.
Since 2006, the city has invested more than $3 million in improvements at the airport, including water, sewer, roads, firefighting operations and snow-removal equipment, but hasn’t updated the hangars. The city owns several hangars at the airport, but all are occupied.
“We’ve got kind of an older set of hangars out there right now,” Franzen said. “We’ve got some commercial hangar opportunities but for the most part, all the hangars we have are utilized.”
If the area isn’t able to attract UAS developers, city officials believe the new hangar would still be viable to bring other developers to the area.
“It’s a need, and we’ve modified it slightly as we try to go after this industry,” Franzen said.
SelectTech Services Corp. is a defense contractor with an advanced manufacturing facility at the airport that develops, manufactures and tests a variety of technology, including unmanned aircraft.
SelectTech Executive Director Frank Beafore said he believes more hangar space will allow the airport to thrive.
“It’s a great idea,” Beafore said. “I think it’s a real plus because of the additional capacity that may be coming this way. Secondarily, we’ve got a great airport that’s way underutilized, and I think it’s going to help that as well.”
SelectTech recently renovated the largest hangar at the airport, built in 1976. SelectTech spent $75,000 renovating the 17,000-square-foot hangar.
The airport already has two groups — Wright State University, through an agreement with SelectTech and Sinclair Community College — that have been issued certificates of authorization to fly drones there.
But developers need space, which is what Springfield is hoping to bring through the new hangar complex, Beafore said. “If you don’t have immediate space, then (developers will go) somewhere else,” he said.
Beafore said Springfield is a “superb resource” for UAS. He said the region, with easy access to Interstates 70 and 75, is a big help to developers. “The region has ... a complete supply chain to allow any operation to stand up immediately. I don’t know of another place in the United States that has a supply chain that can help an operation like this start up fast.”
On Wednesday, state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and state Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, formed the Statehouse’s first Aerospace Caucus to increase knowledge and awareness for the industry. The inaugural meeting of the caucus included industry leaders such as General Electric Aviation and the Boeing Co., as well as NASA and Air Force officials.
“Ohio is in a war for jobs and workforce development against other states and global competitors. Our state has to recognize human talent is the No. 1 reason to maintain and attract research dollars and investments from government and businesses alike,” Widener said.
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