Minnesota Hopes to Cash in on Drone Testing

By KBJR News 1

July 18, 2013 Updated Jul 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - You've seen them fighting on the front lines in the war on terror.

Soon drones could be flying overhead in Minnesota.

"This is the way of the future, it's something new, it's something we're just starting to learn, explore and understand," said the Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The Federal Government is searching for restricted airspace to test how UAVs work.

Minnesota is one of 36 states competing to become one of six test sites.

"I've been hearing from private companies, from economic development professionals, there's large interest in how do you grow the flight industry," Sieben said.

A recent study, conducted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, shows drone testing in Minnesota could lead to a thousand new jobs and nearly $150 million being pumped into the economy over a two year period.

It's why the Department of Employment and Economic Development jumped at the opportunity.

"The Case we've made is pretty compelling. There are some things we can offer that other locations can't," said Don Monaco, owner of Monaco Air in Duluth.

Those things are found right in our own backyard. Lake Superior offers restricted airspace and the Twin Ports has a booming aviation industry.

"Monaco Air, for instance, could provide some maintenance services to some companies bringing in their test equipment. This could be a natural launching off point when you start to figure out how to integrate with tower operations at an airport that provides commercial air service," said Monaco.

Drone usage could go far beyond military applications. Drones could be used for farming, real estate planning and in natural disasters.

"When the flood happened in Duluth we could have sent UAVs over that region to assess the damage and get the information quicker and understand how we need to respond even quicker," said Sieben.

There is concern over the growing usage of drones for things like protecting US borders and police surveillance.

A Minnesota lawmaker has drafted legislation that would control drone usage.

"A question of how readily accessible is the technology and can they fly over your backyard easily. Absolutely they can. Would you want a police officer just parked outside your yard looking to see if you do something wrong? Of course you wouldn't. That's the potential misuse of them," said Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge).

The conversation, whether for or against, is just beginning to take off.

"At some point unmanned space vehicles will be just a natural part of aviation," said Monaco.

Earlier this year, The Minnesota Army National Guard opened a $4 million unmanned aircraft training facility at Camp Ripley, the only one of its kind in the region.

The FAA is expected to choose its six test sites this Fall.

Kevin Jacobsen
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