Last week’s decision by the Federal Aviation Administration is not likely to have much of an impact on plans to bring drone testing to Mineral County, a Mineral County economic development planner said.
The decision, which designated Nevada as one of six test sites nationally that will work to develop FAA regulations for drone flight and testing, is not likely to keep Drone America or Leptron, the two unnamed vehicle companies seeking to do business at the Hawthorne airport, away from Mineral County, said Shelly Hartmann, executive director of the Mineral County Economic Development Authority.
Hartmann said the companies are still hoping to do business at the airport because the strip offers two advantages: there is no landing fee, and there is so little traffic at the airport drones can take off and land at will.
“Now that Nevada is one of the specific test sites, they’re still going to be coming,” she said.
By designating test sites, the FAA may have accelerated the process of bringing the commercial testing to the county, Hartmann said.
One of the main obstacles to bringing the companies to the county is getting the airport certified by the FAA to host drone testing.
Hartmann said the process has been underway for quite some time, but is continually stymied by the FAA, which regularly changes its application for certification.
The “FAA was not, I don’t think they were prepared for the private uses,” Hartmann said. “Because now you’re dealing with private pilots, you’re not dealing with military pilots; you’re dealing with people with a large variety of skills as far as pilots go, and I don’t think they were ready yet.”
She also added she thinks the FAA was focused on designating the test sites, and now that decision has been made, the agency will turn its attention to developing regulations for flying private drones.
Hartmann said designating test sites may make the certification process go faster, but it could still be up to a year before Drone America is flying in Mineral County skies.
But even with the long wait for drones to come to the Hawthorne airport, there may be some immediate fiscal advantages because of the decision.
Hartmann said even though Mineral County is not one of the official test sites in Nevada, it’s likely the county will see some spillover benefits from the test site in Fallon.
“They’ve got a really busy little airport, that little community airport, plus you’ve got the Navy airport […],” Hartmann said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”