Nevada money aimed at attracting federal drone program

CARSON CITY — Nevada is preparing to get into the drone business.

The state Board of Examiners will be asked Dec. 3 to approve a request from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to use $1.46 million from a legislative contingency fund to oversee the start-up of an unmanned aerial vehicle program in Nevada.

The funding request is contingent upon Nevada’s designation as a national test site for the drone program. The states winning out in the competition are expected to be notified by the Federal Aviation Administration by Dec. 31. There are 25 finalists for six sites.

If approved by the Board of Examiners, the funding request will go to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee on Dec. 9 for consideration.

The 2013 Legislature set aside $4 million for the economic development office to assist in drone test site development efforts.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, a member of the Board of Examiners, pushed for the funding in the 2013 session, noting that Nevada has been hosting military drone operations for years.

If Nevada is selected, Sandoval said the designation could bring thousands of jobs, generate $125 million in annual state and local tax revenue and have an overall economic impact of $2.5 billion.

In a report to the board, the economic development office said that it has been working since January 2012 to position Nevada as a strong candidate for the FAA designation.

“Nevada must continue to demonstrate the preparedness and capacity to attract and host companies that want to manufacture, test and fly here,” the report said.

Steve Hill, executive director of the economic development office, said he believes that Nevada has put together one of the best applications to be submitted to the FAA.

“I think everyone who has worked on this has done a terrific job,” he said Tuesday. “We think, and we have said publicly, that we have a very good chance of being one of the six designated sites.”

Hill said industry officials have indicated Nevada has a good chance as well.

Nevada’s application includes a huge amount of airspace that could be used for drone testing, and the state’s climate allows for flying nearly year round, he said.

Hill said the funding is being sought now because Nevada does not want to have its progress with the program interrupted should it be selected. The FAA said recently that it wants to integrate the drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015.

“So what that indicates to us is that there is going to be a concerted effort to get moving quickly to meet that deadline,” he said.

The drone program offers a significant economic opportunity for Nevada, the office said in its report.

“For instance, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has projected that the UAV industry could create over 103,000 jobs by 2015 and further projects the total tax revenues to the states to exceed $635 billion in the first 11 years after the UAVs are allowed to fly in the national air space,” the report said.

The FAA said in 2012 that once the programs are established, they are expected to provide valuable data to help the agency safely and efficiently integrate the drones into the same airspace with manned airplanes.

“Unmanned aircraft can help us meet a number of challenges, from spotting wildfires to assessing natural disasters,” said former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last year. “But these test sites will help us ensure that our high safety standards are maintained as the use of these aircraft becomes more widespread.”

Through the National Defense Authorization Act and the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill, Congress mandated that the FAA establish test sites.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.