National drone test site could mean billions in NV

RENO, Nev. — Aerospace industry officials trying to persuade the U.S. government to make Nevada home to a national drone test site say the unmanned aerial vehicles represent a potential gold mine for the state worth billions of dollars.

Nevada is on the short list of 25 applicants from 24 states. Six test sites will be chosen, the next step to opening the nation’s airspace to civilian drones.

Experts who met with state officials in Reno this week say the drone testing would have a wide range of both public and private economic impact in Nevada, from military reconnaissance missions to herding livestock.

Tom Wilczek, defense and aerospace industry representative for the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said Nevada is well-positioned to provide such a program because of the drone expertise that resides in the state, including significant military assets at Creech and Nellis Air Force Bases and Naval Air Station Fallon.

The global market for unmanned aerial systems is $6.6 billion, he said. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International expects the international market to double to $140 billion in the next decade.

In the United States, airspace integration for drones is estimated to create $13.6 billion in economic impact during the first three years. The number is estimated to grow to $82.1 billion between 2015 and 2025.

“If we can capture just 10 percent of that revenue, you’re looking at $8 billion (in economic activity),” Wilczek told the Reno Gazette-Journal (

The number does not include related sectors or industries that indirectly benefit from unmanned aerial systems. It also does not factor in robot vehicles such as Google’s self-driving car, which Nevada plans to integrate into its unmanned automated systems sector.

For a state hit hard by the recession and eager to diversify its economy, the potential impact is a big deal. Wilczek said that’s one of the reasons that competition for the test site designation is stiff among the remaining finalists. The Federal Aviation Administration intends to select the six sites by Dec. 31.

The designation, for example, could generate $2.7 billion in economic impact for Nevada in 2015, said Jon Daniels, technical director of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems’ Programmatic Management Office. The office is working with the state on its test site application.

“It’s estimated that the sector will have an economic impact of $68 billion per year and generate 100,000 jobs nationwide,” Daniels said. “We’d like to have 10,000 to 15,000 of those jobs in (Nevada). Without the civil designation from the FAA, it would be impossible for us to do any of this on a commercial aspect.”


Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal,


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