Outside of our community, Dayton is well known as the birthplace of manned flight and home of the Wright brothers. What many people inside our community might not know is that we are quickly becoming a center for unmanned aviation. That’s because leaders and institutions of higher learning across the region are working together to grow the research, development, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). With the growth of these systems come opportunities for job creation and expansion, as well as the ability to attract business to our community.
In recent years, the uses of UAS have significantly increased, with strong projected growth. UAS are used not only for military applications, but also civilian and commercial purposes, such as border and coastal patrol and monitoring, homeland security, law enforcement, disaster operations, digital mapping and planning, search and rescue, fire detection and management, environmental research and air quality management, air traffic control support, agriculture and fisheries. However, lack of special use airspace to research UAS technologies and detection techniques is a potential impediment to the nation’s ability to develop this important tool.
That’s why I worked with my colleagues to include important provisions in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill earlier this year to establish a program for UAS test ranges. In working with members of the House Committee on Transportation, the final language established six UAS testing sites to be located across the country, as determined by the FAA Administrator.
Recognizing the importance of these test ranges, I worked to successfully add similar language creating testing ranges to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA was signed into law in late December 2011. The conference committee of House and Senate members expanded the amount of testing sites originally requested from four to six in the final legislation. The language highlights the special capabilities present at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and advocates for Southwest Ohio facilities such as the Wilmington and Springfield Airparks to be considered as designated testing sites for UAS research.
Already there are encouraging signs for our community to land one of these test ranges. In April it was announced that Sinclair Community College has been selected to conduct UAS Research at the Springfield Air National Guard Base. Sinclair also has opened a new UAS facility on their campus. Selection for UAS testing, coupled with their new training facility, will help further the research at Sinclair, and will help provide new educational opportunities for students in our community. Most importantly, it will place them in a strong position to land the jobs that will come with further testing, research and development of UAS in our region.
Increased collaboration and expanded educational opportunities in the private sector are only one piece of the puzzle. We must also find ways for our Governmental agencies to work together and share the knowledge they’ve gained through years of practical application. In this year’s NDAA, I offered an amendment which promotes collaboration between Government agencies on UAS. Specifically, the language requires scientific and technical personnel collaboration and sharing resources from the Department of Defense (DOD), FAA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Together these agencies can advance an enduring relationship of research capability. This language should also help to advance the goal of access to UAS of the DOD to the National Airspace System. The success of the regional testing ranges, which are yet to be announced by the FAA Administrator, will hinge on this sort of collaboration.
Much work remains to be done on this expanding sector of the aviation industry. Our community is in a strong position to lead the future growth in unmanned flight. The Wright brothers would be proud of our high profile role in the field of aviation, and all of us look forward to the expansion in economic growth and jobs that will come with it.
Mike Turner is the U.S. Representative for the Ohio 3rd Congressional District.