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UAV testing could bring 2,700 jobs, $2.1B to Ohio, study says

DAYTON -- The potential growth of the unmanned aerial systems industry will have an "enormous economic and job creation" impact in the United States, creating at least 2,700 jobs and a $2.1 billion impact in Ohio by 2025, according to an industry group study released Tuesday.

But one Dayton Development Coalition official said the projections underestimated the number of jobs that could be created in the Dayton-Springfield area and across the state.

"There's many other areas that unmanned systems will have, future developments that we think Ohio will be a large player in," said Maurice "Mo" McDonald, vice president of military affairs who has worked on UAV issues.

The study looked at employment, sales and taxes, but didn't explore areas such as maintenance, training and the potential sale of U.S. drones overseas.

The report arrives in the midst of the Federal Aviation Administration calling for proposals to select six sites nationwide to test the integration of unmanned aerial vehicles into the national air space by 2015. The Dayton Development Coalition will submit Ohio's pitch to the FAA which is expected to choose the winners by the end of the year. The state has teamed with Indiana to make its case. The proposal would have the UAVs flown out of the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and the Wilmington Air Park.

The Arlington, Va.-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International report projected that if UAVs are integrated into civilian airspace by 2015 the industry will create 70,000 jobs and have a $13.6 billion impact nationwide within the first three years. By 2025, the industry would create more than 100,000 jobs and pump $82 billion into the U.S. economy. Each year of delay costs the economy $10 billion, the study author said. Ohio would gain $14.6 million in taxes and the nation as a whole $482 million by the middle of next decade.

AUVSI is the "largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community," according to its website.

Two hot spots will make up 90 percent of the market: The use of UAVs in agriculture and in public safety, the AUVSI report said. The UAV market in "precision agriculture," where farmers use UAVs to monitor crops, or spray pesticides, or other uses, was expected to reach $75 billion by 2025, or more than 10 times larger than public safety agencies, the report said.

Ohio didn't rank in the top 10 states for expected economic gains, but study author Daryl Jenkins, an aviation industry economist, said in a conference call Tuesday UAV test site selection along with business climate and regulations could have a significant role on where jobs and industry grow.

The Dayton Development Coalition has not estimated how many jobs might be created in the Dayton region, McDonald said. But growth has already happened or is expected. Defense Research Associates in Beavercreek expects to double in size to more than 100 workers by 2016 under a military contract to develop UAV sense and avoidance technology, said company president and CEO Roy Anderson.

Phillip Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the aerospace consultant firm Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., said the AUVSI report was "quite modest" in its market forecast, but he said it's difficult to predict how quickly UAVs will be allowed to fly in civilian airspace and under what conditions.

"It's likely to be a slow process obviously because of concerns about safety and there's a lot of extraneous factors entering into it beyond safety," he said. "The whole privacy debate may affect how UAVs are integrated into the airspace and under what conditions.

The FAA had suspended indefinitely selection of UAV test sites until privacy concerns were addressed, but backtracked when members of Congress said the agency's role was to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace while other agencies addressed privacy issues.

For now, Finnegan said military sales will continue to outpace the civilian market.

"The military is the dominant segment of the market now and it's going to be the dominant market for years," he said.

The Dayton-Springfield region has strong points to build a UAV industry, officials say. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has a major UAV research and development program, for example, and Sinclair Community College offers training on the use of UAVs.

"There's a lot that we need to fill out, but we have the basic infrastructure to start," said Kerry D. Taylor, director of the Ohio Aerospace Hub in Dayton.

In Springfield, SelectTech GeoSpatial produces the airframe for a commercial unmanned aircraft called Vireo.

Designed and sold by UTC Aerospace Systems, a unit of the corporation that manufactures Sikorsky helicopters and Pratt & Whitney jet engines, Vireo is being pitched to law enforcement agencies, first responders and agriculture producers. Weighing about three pounds, it can be launched by hand and can stay airborne for an hour with a payload of electro-optical and infra-red sensors.

SelectTech GeoSpatial, whose Advanced Manufacturing Facility is located within a renovated, 17,000-square-foot hangar at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, has so far made 10 Vireo prototypes, Executive Director Frank Beafore said.

"I do believe we're going to see the benefits of having robotic aircraft performing jobs we can't do," Beafore said.

Staff writer Andrew McGinn contributed to this report.

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