CINCINNATI — Ohio and Indiana will operate their own test ranges for unmanned aircraft and seek ways of promoting more research and development to attract drone-related businesses after losing in their joint bid for a coveted Federal Aviation Administration test site.
The states sought one of six FAA drone test sites being set up as the agency develops a plan for safely integrating commercial drones into U.S. airspace. An industry-commissioned study predicted unmanned aircraft could produce thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact after that integration, and Ohio and Indiana were among two dozen states hoping that a site could boost their prospects for sharing in any economic boom.
But the FAA last month selected Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
"We were obviously hoping for an FAA designation, but with or without it, that doesn't change our vision or strategy," said Chris Ford, vice president of aerospace and defense for the Dayton Development Coalition, which is leading Ohio's drone efforts.
Ohio and Indiana are moving ahead with their partnership that includes the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center & Test Complex set up last year in Springfield, Ohio, and still developing. It serves as a regional hub operating seven test drone ranges in both states, providing sites where businesses, universities and researchers sites can test unmanned aircraft.
"Companies and others will need places where they can test a little, design a little and then test more," said Duane Embree, executive director of the Indiana Office of Defense Development, which is leading Indiana's drone efforts. "We can essentially do everything we were going to do — just without the FAA designation."
Both states also are counting on their involvement in a NASA competition this spring to increase their visibility among unmanned aircraft developers participating from around the country.
"Places that get recognized early are more likely to attract the businesses," Embree said.
The center will host the challenge at the Camp Atterbury test range near Edinburgh, Ind., where it will test innovative "sense and avoid" technologies aimed at preventing drone collisions with other aircraft.
Commercial uses for drones are vast. The oil and gas industry can use them to monitor pipelines, farmers can dust crops or locate livestock with drones, and public safety officials can conduct surveillance or monitor damage from natural disasters.
The FAA has until the end of 2015 to present its integration plan, though officials acknowledge it may take longer.
Ohio and Indiana are not the only states continuing testing at existing sites.
"It's business as usual for us, too," said Eileen Shibley, director of the California Unmanned Aircraft Systems Portal at Inyokern Airport. But Shibley is concerned that some people mistakenly believe they have to travel to one of the FAA sites to test their aircraft.
Brendan Schulman leads the unmanned aircraft practice at New York-based Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel law firm and says public entities not selected by the FAA still have opportunities and can apply for certificates of waiver or authorization allowing drone operation at specific locations.
"But the regulatory processes can be slow and cumbersome, and the U.S. is trailing far behind several countries," he said.