Nevada gets head start on drone technology - 8 News NOW

Nevada gets head start on drone technology

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LAS VEGAS -- Unmanned-aerial vehicles are expected to become a $900 billion industry worldwide.

The state of Nevada has a head start on most other areas of the country with the first official Federal Aviation Administration test scheduled for next Wednesday, north of the Nevada Test and Training Range.

It could mean billions of dollars for Nevada and could create thousands of jobs from software engineering to manufacturing.

Private companies are racing to develop and use commercial drones. They've been used to make movies and to advertise real estate. The catch: they are currently illegal.

The FAA is considering streamlining the permit process for smaller drones in low-risk areas, but a complete set of regulations could be years away.

The history of flight has been full of turbulence, lots of lofty ideas and hard landings. From those humble beginnings, comes a future being developed in Nevada. It is already creating a demand for technicians and programmers. It is bringing in aerospace companies from all over the country.

David Strohm is the director of operations for Sensurion. The company makes unmanned-aerial vehicles or UAV's, commonly referred to as drones.

"The unmanned-aerial system is the natural evolution, and we have to embrace it," Strohm said, "Detect and avoid is something the FAA wants."

Sensurion's flagship is called The Magpie. Strohm says it will be the first bird to help the Federal Aviation Administration set its regulations for commercial UAV's.

James Fleitz from the company Bowhead will be taking notes while it is in the air.

"It will be a narrative-type report, others will be just quantitative, physical data. This is what happened in these instances with these opportunities and this is what didn't happen," Fleitz said.

Bowhead is contracted to monitor the flight tests in Nevada and submit a report to the FAA. Dozens of companies like Sensurion will participate in the testing. Fleitz says hundreds more are interested. He says some companies are even considering moving headquarters and manufacturing to Nevada.

"The goal is to make Nevada the cornerstone of the UAV industry, and we are well on our way to doing that," Fleitz said.

UAV's are divided into classes of size one through five. Each class will have its own rules.

Smaller aircraft might have to fly under 3,000 feet. Larger drones could be required to have redundancies like an extra engine and a deployable parachute for safety. It is all up in the air now, but Strohm says one thing is for certain.

"The role of the pilot, the swashbuckling, scarf-in-the-wind pilot is changing now," Strohm said.

Nevada's Test Sites will play an important role in privacy rules and regulations, but in most cases, drones will have to follow the same privacy laws that piloted aircraft follow.

The FAA has until September 2015 to decide how commercial drones will fit into the nation's airspace. Other countries are already using unmanned aerial vehicles in a number of industries.

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