Arizona works to land FAA test site for unmanned aircraft

Patrick O’Grady  Phoenix Business Journal

Arizona officials are working with city governments and local businesses to land a test bed for unmanned aircraft to study how they can work within the nation’s airspace.

Arizona Commerce Authority representatives are working with other groups to coordinate the effort to land one of the six proposed Federal Aviation Administration test bases, which in turn could lure more business to the state.

“We do have many different airports and communities that are interested in being a test site,” said Vicki Panhuise, owner and president of VePoint Consulting Group LLC and chairwoman of the state’s Aerospace and Defense Commission.
The FAA plans to award the six test sites to determine the compatibility of unmanned aircraft within the nation’s airspace. The 60-day request for proposals will open July 20. The FAA said it expects to choose the sites by December.
Arizona officials see the opportunity as a way to capitalize on an industry that already has large unmanned systems being developed in the state by firms such as Boeing Co . The goal is to get those businesses involved as well, said retired U.S. Air Force Gen. John Regni, co-director of the state’s Aerospace and Defense Institute, which was launched by Science Foundation Arizona to bolster the industries.

“The onus on us will not be just to tap cities,” he said. “We will be tapping business as well. We’re going to put the state of Arizona forward as a region where we’ll have multiple sites where different tests can be conducted.”
Such a move would require financial commitments by cities and businesses. The FAA test sites will not come with financing, Regni said.

The primary goal will be to study how unmanned vehicles interact with other aircraft in the skies above the U.S.
Panhuise and Regni see benefits beyond the FAA tests for sites. The first is that manufacturers would have locations to test their aircraft.

There is the potential not just for manufacturers, but also for technology startups that could provide work for the unmanned aircraft’s payloads, Panhuise said.
The state is soliciting input from potential sites and plans to collect the information from those interested by the end of June, Regni said.

State officials have made trips to Washington and met with congressional leaders who oversee the FAA as well as the Arizona congressional delegation, Ragni said.
Panhuise and Gov. Jan Brewer also have made the trip and visited with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The challenge for the state will be in competing with 35 other states and groups that have expressed an interest in landing one of the sites, Ragni said.

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