BEND, Ore. - The Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday the sites where drone research and testing will be allowed. Central Oregon has been chosen as one of the locations, and that could bring an economic boost to the area.
Economic Development for Central Oregon officials said 300 to 400 jobs could be added across the High Desert as a result. Industry experts believe unmanned aerial vehicles and systems can open up even more possibilities.
"If we can bring that kind of activity to here, it will attract other businesses that support that type of industry," said Steve Hill, owner of Cutting Edge Design in Bend.
That was a common theme in Central Oregon when talking to drone industry experts. They think testing UAVs will help fields like agriculture and search and rescue be more efficient.
"There's just a broad range of things that UAS and UAV can do that manned vehicles do today at much greater cost," said Roger Lee, executive director of EDCO.
An example of that happened in Canada, when search and rescue sent dogs and snowmobile teams to find a lost hiker. They weren't able to find the hiker until they sent out an UAV and found the person in a few hours.
Hill designs remote control vehicles that lift helicopters and move them around airports, and is pleased there's support for the industry in Central Oregon.
"We've got a great airport, great weather -- we've got everything else out here, so why not bring that type of economic activity here?" Hill said.
It's not without some controversy though, as there's a level of concern when sending unmanned aircraft into the friendly skies.
"The last thing we want to see is any mid-air collisions with an unmanned vehicle with a smaller or lighter aircraft, and that's what this whole system that FAA has set up to avoid those," Lee said.
Hill believes UAV and UAS aircraft are the wave of the future, and that this is only the beginning.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg, where we're going," Hill said. "I mean, we've all heard what Amazon wants to do with delivering packages by small drones, and things like that. There's a lot more involved then what's there. The fact that the ideas are starting is great."
Here's Oregon State University's news release on the FAA announcement:
"Pan-Pacific Test Site" to aid growth of unmanned aerial systems
CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Federal Aviation Administration has chosen the states of Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii to operate one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems, the agency announced today.
The test site, led by the University of Alaska and including Oregon State University, will be collectively known as the Pan-Pacific Test Site. It will offer unique terrain and scientific capabilities to help develop the future of unmanned aerial vehicles for civilian uses, in everything from crop monitoring to search-and-rescue or fighting forest fires.
The initiative is also a critical step forward for Oregon to be a major player in the evolution of this new industry, with the advances in science, manufacturing and employment opportunities that it offers.
"This will help put OSU and the state of Oregon on the map for the future of unmanned aerial systems," said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. "As one of only six test sites in the nation, we'll be able to fly UAVs more freely and actively, get our students involved in an evolving industry, and help Oregon take advantage of research, development and manufacturing that will be needed."
The FAA was given a mandate by Congress to integrate civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation's skies by 2015, and the six test sites just announced will explore airspace use, safety, certification, technological development, environmental and human factors and many other issues.
The FAA made its decision on the sites after considering 25 proposals from 24 states.
The Pan-Pacific Test Site will combine OSU's historic strengths in remote sensing, platform development and other fields with extensive flying experience and Department of Defense collaboration at the University of Alaska and in Hawaii. The three states also offer an extraordinary range of terrain in which to test new systems: mountains, rivers, valleys, high desert, Arctic tundra, volcanoes, many types of forest and agricultural areas, and tropical islands.
Three specific areas in Oregon are already designated for use in the new test sites, Spinrad said. They include the Warm Springs Reservation in the central Oregon Cascade Range; the Pacific Ocean off Tillamook; and areas near Pendleton in eastern Oregon.
A range of air operations are already under way near Pendleton, and the Tillamook site will offer interesting marine and coastal research options. In cooperation with their tribal council, work done at the Warm Springs Reservation site will provide a range of alpine, river, forest and agricultural areas in which to test various types of devices.
Unmanned aerial systems in civilian use are expected to become a multi-billion dollar industry while opening new opportunities in scientific research and student education. OSU has worked closely with such collaborators as Economic Development for Central Oregon, the U.S. Department of Defense, OSU-Cascades Campus, the state of Oregon, Oregon Congressional leaders, private industry and others to help get the state involved.
It's envisioned that a multitude of devices in the future will fly, walk, swim or crawl to perform valuable or dangerous tasks at very modest expense. Largely because they will be so much cheaper, routine uses in agriculture are planned, environmental monitoring could be improved, forest or crop diseases could be spotted early, fire fighting or search-and-rescue might be enhanced.
Oregon already has a large aviation industry in such fields as helicopters, small aircraft, aviation components and other technology. Along with the state's exceptional range of terrain in which to test new devices, this makes it a natural location in which to help unmanned aerial systems grow.
Further development of the industry, officials say, will require technological advances, regulatory work to ensure privacy rights, improved manufacturing to lower costs, and many other steps.
Other locations for test sites announced today included universities or facilities in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.