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Sandoval: Nevada has good shot to become drone test site

CARSON CITY — Nevada is submitting a competitive application for selection by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six drone testing sites around the country, Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday.

“We feel that we have the resources in terms of the airspace,” he said. “My understanding is that we have more airspace than the other 49 states combined.”

Nevada also has Creech Air Force Base at Indian Springs where unmanned aerial vehicle operations are now based. The state’s two public universities are also moving forward with minor degrees in drone operations.

“We’ve been planning for this for two years,” Sandoval said. “All things look good. There is no such thing as a sure thing, but yes, I’m optimistic.”

Sandoval made his comments following the approval by the state Board of Examiners of $1.46 million in funding to ramp up the drone testing program should the FAA select Nevada. The agency is expected to announce its selections by Dec. 31. There are 25 finalists for the six sites.

The funding request will now go to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee for review on Monday.

Sandoval also acknowledged that he had a discussion about Nevada’s potential drone testing program with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a recent trade mission to Israel. International companies with at least a 50 percent ownership interest in their U.S. operations would have the ability to test their drones in Nevada or other designated sites in the country, he said.

Sandoval asked earlier this year for funding for the drone selection process from the Nevada Legislature, which authorized $4 million.

But the funding request by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development still requires the board and Legislature’s approval.

Steve Hill, executive director of the economic development office, told the board that the potential economic benefits to Nevada are significant.

The four sites in Nevada where the testing would occur are the Fallon Naval Air Station, the Stead Airport north of Reno, the Boulder City Airport and Desert Rock near the Nevada National Security Site.

The FAA said recently that it wants to integrate the drones into U.S. airspace by September 2015, so the possibility of getting a drone package delivery from Amazon, the online retailer, might not be all that far off.

Hill said the testing program will seek to become self-supporting so the need for state revenues is minimized. If Amazon wanted to test in Nevada, for example, the fee paid to do so would be shared by the testing range and the state, he said.

The average annual wage for those in the drone industry will be about $62,000, Hill said.

Nationally the economic impact is expected to reach $100 billion a year within 10 years, he said.

Nevada could see 15,000 well-paying jobs, not including the indirect jobs that would be created as a result, Hill said.

“And we think we could see somewhere between $2.5 (billion) and $8 billion of economic impact annually,” he said.

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

 

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