Upcoming drone research could bring new jobs to the region

A first-of-its-kind drone authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration is already spurring local research and has the potential to bring hundreds of new jobs to the Dayton-Springfield region.

The FAA has granted a “certificate of waiver or authorization” to the Air Force Research Laboratory for beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight of unmanned aerial systems at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. At least one area company is already taking advantage of the new certification.

Dayton-based VyrtX will conduct research at the airport for human organ delivery by drone. VyrtX wants to be able to pilot drones along airborne routes resembling Ohio’s highway system, said Alice Cummings executive vice president of marketing and finance for VyrtX.

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“Ohio will be first …(to have) air corridors so you can actually move things on a path, sort of a highway in the sky kind of concept,” Cummings said.

The company envisions its potential drone delivery system would eventually bring hundreds of new jobs to the region. Once research is completed, Cummings said the company may be able to transport organs across the state in just a few years and would then likely look to expand into Indiana.

The Air Force and other military branches have long used drones in combat and battlefield reconnaissance missions. Large U.S. companies, such as Amazon and Google, want to be able to use drones to deliver products to customers.

VyrtX is likely just the first of many companies that will conduct research at the airport, state and local leaders said Friday during a celebration and tour of the new technology.

“What’s exciting about what we’re celebrating today is not just what’s been accomplished because we all know this is just the start,” said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton.

The new tech, called SkyVision, is designed to allow drones to detect and avoid other aircraft while in flight. Officials described SkyVision — an RV — as a $5-million air traffic control system for unmanned aerial vehicles, which will draw from the FAA’s systems at area airports.

Work to get the FAA to sign off on the Air Force’s research plans to operate drones out of an operator’s line of sight began roughly 11 years ago, said Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Development Coalition.

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The Dayton-Springfield region may be the only region in the nation with FAA authorization for this kind of drone research, said Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Being one of the first “keeps the Miami Valley on the cutting edge,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday.

“As our country steps more and more into the unmanned age of flight, this technology is on the forefront of the aviation frontier, making Ohio a critical national asset for the research and development of UAS technology…” DeWine said. “This is a major step in revolutionizing the transportation industry, with Ohio leading the way in aerospace, defense and aviation innovation.”

With Friday’s rainy weather, DeWine and other leaders were not given an in-person demonstration but did get to tour SkyVision. From the RV, pilots will fly the unmanned vehicles mostly over rural or sparsely populated areas of Ohio, said Art Huber, deputy director of operations for AFRL.

Safety is of the utmost importance when testing drones and Huber said the “disciplined processes” AFRL had to go through with the Air Force and the FAA will “make sure this thing is going to stay in the sky.” Despite flying over less-populated portions of Springfield, drone pilots will still have to avoid planes landing and departing at airports in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus, Huber said.

“You have to avoid all that so the way to do it, if you will, is to have your own private air traffic controller who can tell you what else is flying out there…” Huber said. “We’re just extending the eyes of that pilot so he can know where he is and what he needs to do.”


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