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States Seek Slice of Growing Unmanned Aircraft Industry

October 01, 2015

As the Federal Aviation Administration continues to propose regulations around the fledging unmanned aircraft system (UAS) industry in order to ensure that it integrates into the current system as well as possible, states are beginning to act in order to improve their own competitiveness. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the FAA to establish a test sites program for the UAS, taking into account geographic and climatic diversity, location of ground infrastructure, and research needs in choosing the sites. In December 2013, the FAA announced the selection of six public entities in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia for test sites, all of which became operational in 2014. With test site operations allowed to continue until February 2017 under current law, state agencies, in conjunction with universities and the private sector, are attempting to take advantage of the industry’s vast potential: more than 100,000 jobs created through the year 2025, with an expected economic impact of $82 billion, according to a report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

North Dakota
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has made unmanned aerospace an integral part of his economic development agenda. In 2013, Gov. Dalrymple signed Executive Order 2013-08 to establish the Northern Plains Unmanned Aerial Systems Authority. The authority has since worked to develop the Grand Sky UAS Business Park (Grand Sky), the nation’s first commercial UAS business park located on the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and attract the Northern Plains UAS Test site, the first in the nation to be approved by the FAA for operations.  In 2015, the FAA approved the Northern Plains UAS Test Site for both night flights and the use of digital observers. Grand Sky, which opened in September 2015, announced in April that Northrup Grumman would become the park’s anchor tenant. Also located in Grand Forks, in 2009 the University of North Dakota became the first in the country to offer a Bachelor’s degree in Unmanned Aircraft Aerial Systems. 

Nevada, another state that has received FAA designation as a UAS test site, has placed an emphasis on the unmanned aerial vehicles industry for its potential role in the state’s economic diversification. Nevada AB 507 appropriated $4 million to the Governor's Office of Economic Development in 2013 for its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program, managed by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, a nonprofit housed within the office. The clearly stated intention of this funding was to help Nevada receive the FAA test site designation.  

This past year, Nevada also passed two bills aimed at supporting the industry: AB 161, which waives certain property, sales, and usage taxes for aerospace operations, maintenance, and manufacturing; and, AB 239, which establishes rules for non-governmental drone usage.

Using $3 million from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development Knowledge Fund, the University of Nevada-Reno established the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center with the goal of harnessing industry-university partnerships to commercialize autonomous systems technologies.

In June 2015, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Order 43 to establish the Virginia Unmanned Systems Commission (VUSC), whose objective is to bring public and private sector experts together to make recommendations to grow the state’s unmanned systems industry. In July 2015, the first government-approved delivery by a UAS transported medical supplies to a health clinic in the state’s rural southwest region.

In May 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that a team led by Mississippi State University will direct its new Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, helping with research critical to drone integration. The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) is a consortium of 21 leading research universities and more than 100 other industry and government partners. Research will take place at member universities throughout the country, though a large amount will be concentrated at Stennis Space Center to conduct unmanned precision agriculture research around the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Delta.

Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginiamanufacturing