Alaska is one of six states selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as a test site for UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles.
The FAA wants to integrate the remote-controlled aircraft into the national air-space system. In addition to Alaska, UAV testing will also be conducted in Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
Proponents of UAVs say the machines can perform a variety of important (and often potentially dangerous) tasks while simultaneously sparking Alaska’s economy. In Alaska, the unmanned aircraft will be tested at the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex, managed by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and key partners in Oregon and Hawaii.
“I think there will be development of both the unmanned aircraft systems and related equipment, such as external sensors [and] ground based equipment,” said Ro Bailey, Deputy Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems at UAF.
Representative Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer), the chair of the House Economic Development and Trade Committee, says the new facility will likely bring a thousand jobs to the state in 2014.
"We hope there would be training opportunities both in the private sector and the university, the mechanic part of it and the research, and there's all kinds of entrepreneurs out there in Alaska.”
"Tulugaq, a partnership between Olgoonik Corporation, Fairweather Science, and Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, recently sent a team to survey polar bear deans on the North Slope for the oil and gas industry. Operations Manager Steve Wackowski welcomed Monday’s announcement.
“There is a term of art in the industry we call ‘dull, dirty and dangerous.’ We would like to use UAVs for those kinds of mission sets. Dull and dirty is a perfect example of what polar bear surveys are."
Tulagaq owns a $2 million DA42 manned/unmanned aircraft, which can be easily converted into a UAV.
"We want to fly UAVs where pilots don't want to go or, where our clients don't want to go, include putting a human being at risk,” adds Wackowski.
Other potential uses for UAVs include search and rescue missions, and surveying potential dangers of wildfires or active volcanoes.
Lawmakers are aware of the potential privacy concerns UAVs and similar machines pose, and plan to address that matter should the need arise by modifying Alaska’s privacy laws.
"I can assure Alaskans that we have one of the strongest constitutions when it comes to privacy concerns, actually stronger than the U.S. Constitution,” Rep. Hughes said.
Operations of the test range complex are slated to begin in mid-2014.