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Nye County could benefit from drone site

WASHINGTON — Nye County officials were as excited as others around the state that Nevada was selected as one of six states selected to become test sites for the commercial development of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Other states picked were Alaska, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

Nevada officials have tabbed four sites where the bulk of UAV testing would be based: Desert Rock. a private use airport near Mercury and the Nevada National Security Site, where hundreds of Pahrump residents already commute to work; Stead Airport north of Reno, the municipal airport at Fallon and the Boulder City Municipal Airport.

“We are all thrilled at the news. Nye County hopes to have significant involvement in the program at Desert Rock. The prospect of new jobs is always exciting,” County Manager Pam Webster said, who is also president of the Nye County Regional Economic Development Authority (NCREDA).

“I’m very, very happy with the news on the drones. Desert Rock is the closest place to us apparently. I hope we’ll get something out of it. Anything that possibly brings us jobs is good,” Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said.

Allan Parker, business consultant for the Rural Nevada Development Corporation, said the selection will be for the commercial side of drone testing, not the military’s program run out of Creech Air Force Base. While he’s optimistic, Parker said the county has a lot of marketing work to do attempting to interest commercial manufacturers in Nye County.

“We think Nye County is a very viable site for commercial drone experimentation, manufacture and testing,” Parker said. “There was an estimate from the governor’s office that eventually as many as 15,000 jobs could be created in Nevada for the commercial aspect of drones, that could be a major economic boom. I think it’s too early to predict what will happen in Nye County, because we don’t have anything on the radar screen yet, but I think NCREDA will be working with the governor’s office.”

“This is a new and emerging industry where the state of Nevada is going to be an anchor tenant,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval. “It gives our citizens a tremendous opportunity to be on the ground floor of something that is going to be part of the future of the aviation industry.”

Sandoval said it is too early yet to predict the long-term significance of Monday’s announcement, whether it may someday rank as an economic milestone with the creation of the Nevada Test Site or the major military bases in the state.

But he said, it is possible that “10 years from now, 20 years from now, we will look back and see that it really changed the trajectory of our economic development efforts.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview the state now is poised to “basically control the West” when it comes to attracting clients for UAV research and development.

“We have all this airspace,” Reid said. “You look at these other states, you have Alaska but they don’t have the infrastructure we have,” in the form of companies supporting UAV programs at Nevada military bases. And, he said, the other states selected “are just so far away.”

“Remember, Nevada has been the leader” on UAV, Reid said. “There is no one else.”

The selection represents an imminent economic impact of $2.5 billion to $8 billion annually, said Steve Hill, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Within a decade, the industry could generate $100 billion per year, he said.

“There is virtually unlimited capacity for this industry in Nevada,” Hill said in a November budget memo to members of the state Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Nevada’s selection for UAV research “is a perfect fit” for a state that played a role in the development of advanced aircraft like the U-2 spy plane, and the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones stationed at Creech AFB.

In Washington, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the sites were picked for geographic and climate diversity, and for their planned focus on aspects of UAV development, such as pilot training, the use of a variety of aircraft and the integration of drones into the latest system of air traffic controls. The state’s proposal gives researchers access to swaths of airspace in the Southwest that are yet near population centers like Las Vegas and cities in Southern California.

Tom Wilczek, industry specialist for aerospace and defense at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said work will be concentrated around the airports, and some of it will involve technology and software development, and policy issues that do not involve flight.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has estimated the industry could generate more than $13.6 billion in activity in the first two years after the FAA sets ground rules.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos captured headlines with his plan to deliver Internet-purchased items via drone, other possible uses include monitoring pipelines in remote areas to tracking the spread of wildfires to spraying pesticides over cornfields to carrying out search and rescue missions using aerial videography.

Hill said Nevada was a strong applicant because of its expansive airspace, clear and favorable weather, as well as unmanned aerial vehicle education curriculum established at the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

During its 2013 session, the state Legislature authorized $4 million for drones. In early December, the state Board of Examiners approved $1.46 million in funding for testing.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporters Steve Tetreault, Sean Whaley and Kristy Totten contributed to this report.

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