Nevada drone testing off to slow start



CARSON CITY — Testing of unmanned aerial vehicles in Nevada has gotten off to a slower start than expected, with the first test flight in April and about $300,000 in revenue from testing collected so far, a state economic development official said Tuesday.

The development of the program since Nevada was selected as a testing site for drones by the Federal Aviation Administration late last year, “has been slower than we hoped,” said Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

“At times the federal government doesn’t move quite as quickly as we would like,” he told the state Board of Examiners.

The main reason is because of safety concerns by the FAA, Hill said.

“So it has taken time just to get the test sites open,” he said. “We were one of the first to be opened.”

Hill said his office has identified about 300 companies with an interest in flying in Nevada. About a third have been contacted with 20 serious conversations underway.

“And that ranges from a one-time effort to test one specific topic that they want to what could be a multi-year testing process,” he said.

The company involved in the April test requested confidentiality so no information is available.

Two other flight tests were performed in May, but not at any of the four FAA-designated sites in Nevada. The flights, called Magpie and Arcturus, used Department of Defense airspace, according to a briefing paper provided in June to the economic development board. The Magpie is a Sensurion Aerospace product. Sensurion is based in Minneapolis and offers a wide range of UAS technologies. Arcturus is based in Rohnert Park, Calif., and is recognized for its rugged airframes produced from Kevlar, fiberglass, and carbon fiber.

But being open doesn’t mean financial self-sufficiency, Hill said. As a result, the agency asked the board to approve a request for nearly $1.25 million of a $4 million fund established by the 2013 Legislature to move the UAV program forward. The board, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, approved the request, which will now be considered by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

Hill said the agency is looking for self-sufficiency by mid-2015.

Flight testing was originally seen as the primary source of revenue, but it won’t ramp up as quickly as first thought, he said.

So the state is looking for other revenue sources, including funding from Congress and the potential of research dollars if Nevada becomes part of the FAA’s planned Center of Excellence, Hill said.

The state is also looking at indoor testing areas which are not under FAA control, both for commercial applications and drone aficionados.

“We really see some big upside in that area,” he said.