FAA starts search for UAV test sites; Dayton-Springfield region to apply

And the Dayton-Springfield region wants in on the action.

The federal agency put out the request saying it’s looking for proposals from state and local governments, eligible universities and other public entities before it selects the six sites later this year.

Congress last year passed two bills to direct the FAA to create research and test sites for the aircraft for integration into civilian manned airspace by September 2015.

The Dayton Development Coalition will submit Ohio’s proposal to the FAA. The state has teamed with Indiana at one potential test flying site in southwest Ohio.

“This is a tremendous, tremendous potential to make a transition from a challenged economy into really a big aerospace opportunity that showcases Ohio power in the aerospace industry,” said Joseph Zeis, the coalition’s executive vice president and chief strategic officer.

The final piece of the application, a myriad of information from aerospace capabilities to economic impact, is due May 6.

The call for proposals arrived days after the Congressional Unmanned Aerial Systems Caucus, including U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, challenged the FAA to put site selection back on course after the agency last year indefinitely delayed picking locations citing a need to study concerns about drone surveillance intrusions into citizens’ privacy. The caucus said the FAA’s mission was to focus on safety, while Congress and other agencies focused on privacy issues.

The FAA was originally scheduled to pick the six sites by December 2012. UAVs are envisioned to have a wide range of roles, from flying over forests to spot fires to law enforcement surveillance.

“Our focus is on maintaining and improving the safety and efficiency of the world’s largest aviation system,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This research will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the sites are aimed at helping federal officials learn how unmanned aircraft systems operate in different environments and how they will impact air traffic operations. The sites will also help the agency develop standards for certifying unmanned aircraft and determine necessary air-traffic requirements.

The FAA will consider factors ranging from geography to climate to population and air-traffic density as it considers proposals.

Turner said the Dayton region is “a logical choice” to become one of the six sites.

“A selection of a location in our community for one of these sites will mean new jobs, untold economic development, and a foothold in an emerging industry,” he said.

The Dayton region has a foundation for UAV testing on a number of fronts, Zeis said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has developed UAV sense and avoidance technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Springfield-Buckley Municipal Airport and Wilmington Air Park have acted as a home base for UAV testing. The application is expected to tout the region’s university research and development, UAV training and aerospace industry, among other key points.

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