Commentary from a manufacturing perspective
While UAS in the NAS may sound like the latest reality show about self-absorbed twenty-something rap stars, it is anything but. What the acronym stands for is integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System. The Federal Aviation Administration is currently looking to establish six test sites nationwide, and Arizona should absolutely be one of them. These sites will help to figure out the logistics of safely incorporating unmanned and manned flights into the same airspace.
While the term “UAS in the NAS” may be unwieldy, the significance of the endeavor could have a potentially huge and lasting positive impact on the areas that are designated for testing. Unmanned Aerial Systems are currently one of the only areas that are slated for growth in what will surely be a shrinking defense budget, and as one of the top recipient states of Department of Defense dollars, it is vitally important to our economy and industrial growth that we pull out all the stops to make sure Arizona is awarded a test site.
Similar to the 1950’s when aerospace and defense companies put roots down in the desert soil and grew into an economic force, this could be the opportunity to attach our state to the next great technological growth cycle; the future and potential of unmanned systems is only limited by the imagination.
Arizona is the perfect area to place a test site for both large and small UAS operations, as Fort Huachuca is already home to the world’s largest UAS training center, with 33,000 UAS flight hours logged and 10,000 UAS operators certified.
We have the ideal climate for year-round testing, plus our beautiful mix of desert and mountain climates provides the ultimate test of capabilities within the confines of a single flight. There are few places in the U.S. where you can run a flight test from the barrenness of the Goldwater range, yet be within half an hour of one of the world’s 15 busiest airports.
From an environmental aspect, Arizona has no earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados nor recent wolverine attacks to worry about or disrupt schedules.
Arizona hosts a broad range of aerospace and engineering research facilities, including the Arizona Laboratories for Security and Defense Research, and robust academic research at the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Northern Arizona University. Additionally, Cochise College’s Northrop Grumman Innovation Campus offers Associate Degrees in UAS Flight Operations and System Technicians.
From an economic perspective we can paraphrase Terrence Mann from Field of Dreams: “If you test it, they will come.” The benefits of attracting one of the test sites is that we will have an easier time attracting UAS companies and their accompanying high wage jobs to Arizona. We would love to have companies like General Atomics and AeroVironment, who are at the forefront of UAS development, call Arizona home. Those with a presence already in our state, like Boeing and Northrop, will desire to expand, and in 10 or 20 years from now there could be a myriad of exciting technologies and companies that will spin off from these groups.
So whether your political tastes run to Obama, Romney, Paul or Lady Gaga, this is an endeavor that we must all get behind from the local, state, and congressional level that will provide enormous long term benefit to Arizona. The Arizona Commerce Authority is currently running point on the mid-to-late spring presentation to the FAA for this project and they have some exceedingly capable hands on it, but it will require well-coordinated collaboration from government, industry and private citizens in order to succeed and put Arizona at the forefront of unmanned systems development.
Steve Macias is the president of Pivot Manufacturing and the chairman of the Arizona Manufacturers Council