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December 30, 2013

FAA rejects Ohio, Indiana bid for drone test site

Ohio and Indiana have lost out on their joint bid to secure one of the Federal Aviation Administration’s highly coveted test sites for unmanned aircrafts.

The FAA on Monday announced six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, the agency said.

Ohio and Indiana had hoped to improve their chances by combining forces and setting up the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center & Test Complex based in Springfield, Ohio. The proposal included several test ranges in southwest Ohio and southeast Indiana.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Ohio would have been a good choice because of its deep roots in aerospace, noting that it’s home to a U.S. Air Force research lab near Dayton and a NASA research center in Cleveland.  

The FAA said its decisions were based on geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

The test site selections come as the United States is preparing to open its skies to the unmanned aircraft that industry experts predict will generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact.

States hoped that winning one of the test locations would attract drone-related businesses and help them become a key player in what some market analysts describe as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade.

Congress mandated that the FAA develop a plan by 2015 for safely integrating civilian drones into the national airspace, and the test sites are meant to ensure that drones don’t endanger people, planes or property.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who helped craft the legislation requiring test sites, said southwest Ohio can still play a role in the development in drones despite losing out on its bid.

“Our region will benefit from being on the cutting edge of innovation and development in unmanned system,” he said.

Military drones are increasingly being used overseas, and the FAA estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial unmanned aircraft could be operating domestically within the next few years.

Domestic drones, often resembling the remote-controlled model airplanes and helicopters flown by hobbyists, are expected to help monitor floods and other emergencies, survey crops and assist search-and-rescue operations.

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Seewer reported from Toledo, Ohio.

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