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October 18, 2018

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Nevada seeks to expand drone testing with new FAA program


AP Photo / John Locher

Drones fly at the Autel booth during the International CES Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Nevada is looking to soar to new heights with drone testing, applying for a federal program to push the limits of unmanned aircraft systems.

The program would provide an opportunity to join private entities, like drone operators and manufacturers, to prepare proposals for more advanced drone operations, such as flying beyond the line of sight and over people.

More than 200 applications have been submitted for five spots in the Federal Aviation Administration Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. The Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development was among the applicants.

“Our state has become a world leader in advancing what is possible with unmanned aircraft systems,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement.

In 2013, the state won an FAA designation as one of six test sites to assist with the integration of drones into the national airspace system.

“Many of the same corporate teammates we partnered with in cutting edge UAV tests reached out to us and asked to join this current proposal team,” said Tom Wilczek, GOED aerospace and defense industry representative. “The know-how, both in terms of technical capabilities and subject-matter expertise, is unparalleled.”

Selection for the new program would allow Nevada to expand testing of drone delivery. The Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, which oversees the testing, already has publicly demonstrated drone package deliveries in Reno.

And in May, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development entered into an agreement with an unnamed major retailer to commence testing and implement a retail drone delivery system in Nevada.

“I haven’t heard who the retailer is, but it makes sense that it’s Amazon,” said drone analyst Colin Snow of California-based Skylogic Research. “They are the only retailer with a program mature enough to do testing.”

Paul Anderson, incoming GOED executive director, said participation in the new FAA program would “continue to boost this growing industry in Nevada.”

Chris Walach, senior director at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, said he could not disclose details about the state’s proposal. “With only five awards guaranteed, we can’t reveal our recipe for the secret sauce,” he said.