San Diego loses bid for drone test site

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San Diego loses bid for drone test site

A RQ-4 Global Hawk developed in San Diego by Northrop Grumman. Northrop Grumman

San Diego County is home to the nation's two largest developers of unmanned aircraft, yet it lost its bid to make Southern California one of six regions across the country where researchers will figure out ways to integrate such vehicles into the nation's airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday chose public teams in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia for the Congressionally-mandated research and testing, which is expected to lead to the certification of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) later this decade.

The FAA said it "considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk" in making its decision.

The agency is trying to find ways for people to operate everything from mid-sized UAS that would monitor the environment to the sort of small drones that Amazon.com has proposed using for delivering products to people's homes.

San Diego had pressed hard to have Southern California selected as one of the test sites, putting together a coalition led by the San Diego Military Advisory Council (SDMAC) and the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The coalition proposed UAS testing in an area extending from China Lake to Edwards Air Force Base, then west to the Pacific and south to the Mexican border. The plan was opposed by some East County residents, who expressed concern about safety and privacy.

"This is bad news for California," said Larry Blumberg, executive director of SDMAC. "The economic impact would have been great. I'm very disappointed. Southern California has everything needed for this kind of testing -- open space over land and water, all kinds of terrain, from mountains to deserts to urban areas, and a manufacturing base."

Blumberg was partly referring to Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which develop UAS, which are generally referred to as drones. Northrop's Global Hawk vehicle and General Atomics' Predator drone have been widely used by the military and government in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proposal to make Southern California a test site was strongly supported by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, who told U-T San Diego by email on Monday, "The FAA certainly had enough locations to choose from, but among the sites selected, it's hard to see how San Diego's assets and resources did not put the region at the top of the list.

"San Diego has all the talent and capability to ensure any future use of unmanned platforms is safe and properly regulated. If the FAA plans on setting the parameters, then the objective must be to create very narrow and clear requirements for the potential use of unmanned systems. But If the testing was occurring regionally, there would be more opportunity to keep an eye on things and understand better the FAA's process and test targets."


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