Utah is an ideal site for testing drones. We have the uninhabited west desert area, with its ranges, as well as an established military base in Hill Air Force Base, which includes drone maintenance skills among its many defense and technological responsibilities.
Currently, there is competition between more than three dozen organizations within the U.S. to be one of six locations where drone testing will occur. The Governor's Office of Economic Development will pitch Utah for one of the sites. The exact site has not been revealed. The data has to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration by May 6. The FAA will issue a final decision on the six sites by Dec. 31 of this year.
According to Marshall Wright, director of business development for the GOED aerospace and defense cluster, the FAA wants a test bed for drones in natural airspace, one that will bring the drone into the normalcy of that environment. If a testing site in Utah is selected, it can mean hundreds of millions in dollars for the state's economy through 2025, as well as about 1,000 extra jobs.
With the Hill base, the Utah Test and Training Range, and a workforce skilled in defense technology needed for the drone program, Utah officials have a lot to work with in presenting a persuasive argument to the FAA.
This opportunity also allows Utah officials to regain some of the ground in the new defense technology world that to an extent, has passed Utah by. Our state's slow movement to acknowledge these changes has led to setbacks. There is no doubt that job losses at ATK, for example, have occurred due to a failure to respond positively to changes.
Having an FAA drone testing program here is a great opportunity. We sincerely urge our state officials lobbying for this to be well prepared.