1 September 2011
FAA ruling to ignite UAV job growth
 by Laura Englehart , DBJ Staff Reporter
Dayton Business Journal


Stealth aircraft will be used more frequently in the future, including radar-evading UAV drones. This is the X47 made by Northrop Grumman.

An upcoming decision by the Federal Aviation Administration could spark big growth in jobs at defense contractors that make UAVs, or drones.

Stealth aircraft will be used more frequently in the future, including radar-evading UAV drones. This is the X47 made by Northrop Grumman.

A decision by the Federal Aviation Administration could provide a huge economic boost to six states looking to grow jobs at defense contractors that make or do research on UAVs, also called drones.

The FAA in the next couple months could request proposals from states that have air space that could serve as pilot sites for studying whether to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to fly with commercial aircraft, said Ohio State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield.

The FAA eventually would choose six states in which to set up those sites.
“We want to be one of them,” Widener said.

The Republican who represents parts of Madison, Clark and Greene counties also said an undisclosed Beavercreek-based company could add 1,000 jobs to its payroll if the FAA designates air space near Dayton to allow UAV testing. Currently, the closest approved testing space is in Indiana, he said.

If Ohio is chosen, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Wilmington Air Park or Springfield Air National Guard Base could benefit, boosting the local economy.

Tentative plans show the unnamed company would produce 40 to 60 UAVs annually, each priced at $3 million to $5 million, Widener said.

And it would not stop there.

“That’s just one of many companies that have plans … and we feel like they’ll pull the trigger and start down the road of manufacturing, if we have the air space close,” Widener said.

The FAA proposal request could come prior to any approval by Congress of the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011, which includes language to set up various pilot UAV test sites. The U.S. House OK’d the bill in late March.

Local leaders have said authorizing air space in the Dayton region makes sense, and the advantages will stretch across many industries.

“We have infrastructure in the region — with the Air Force base here and (federal) Department of Development contract firms — that no one else has,” said Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales. “All we’re lacking in the equation for being the hotbed for UAVs is air space.”

But competition could be steep to land FAA approval. Local leaders must work together to make it happen, Perales said.
“If we can pull together ... and work toward that end goal of getting the air space we need, that’s a win on every level,” he said.
UAV research and development already has sparked some recent industry growth in the Dayton region.

In February, McLean, Va.-based Science Applications International Corp. announced plans to add 215 jobs in the Dayton region, in large part because of the Air Force’s focus on UAV research and development in the area.

Officials said SAIC will hire several hundred employees during the next three years – mostly engineers, scientists, computer programmers and technicians. It already has 380 workers in the region at two buildings in Beavercreek and one in Springfield.
General Atomics, which makes the Predator drone as well as the Reaper, has 5,000 employees and has been a big player in the military aeronautics field since it was founded in 1955 as a division of General Dynamics Corp.

Among the major players that have a presence in the Dayton region and could grow further here depending on the FAA decision are Boeing Co., which started a UAV unit several years ago; Lockheed Martin Corp., which makes the Desert Hawk and Samurai UAVs; Northrop Grumman Corp., which is developing a new, multi-purpose UAV; and BAE Systems, which acquired Dayton-based MTC Technologies to gain a foothold in the Dayton region and has become one of the top 10 largest defense contractors in Dayton.

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