Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Hoping it will deliver new businesses, jobs and tax revenue, officials will break ground a drone-testing range in Henderson on Wednesday.
The 6-acre site, adjacent to Nevada State College, is a project of Henderson and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS), a nonprofit corporation created by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to promote the development of the drone industry.
Called the Henderson Unmanned Vehicle Range, or HUVR, the site sits southeast of Nevada State College just off of Paradise Hills Drive. According to the NIAS, the site will feature a 150-foot runway, four vertical take-off and landing pads, an observation tower, a flight operations control center and a large netted drone area.
Mark Barker, director of Business Development for NIAS, said the site will be used for what people in the drone industry call “smalls,” or drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. But that limit does not mean people who received a drone for Christmas can show up at the HUVR and expect to use the runway and other facilities.
“When the NIAS and the state talk about drones, we’re really talking about the nonhobbyist kind of drones,” Barker said. “We focus on commercial entities and organizations, in some cases those tied with the Defense Department.
“We have a variety of clients. Some have smaller drones, and some have others that are a few hundred pounds that fly at very high altitudes and need runways. So it’s about airframes and flight profiles, and we are there to provide logistic support to them.”
In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration designated Nevada as one of six sites intended to help integrate aerial drones into the system the FAA uses to manage the national airspace. HUVR is one of four ranges the NIAS operates in Nevada.
Barbra Coffee, the director of Economic Development and Tourism for Henderson, said Henderson in general, and the site near the college specifically, have characteristics that make them ideal locations for a drone-testing range.
“When we started talking to NIAS, one of the things they had mentioned was they would love a more convenient location, a more accessible location that would be closer in to Las Vegas and to its amenities,” Coffee said. “It’s a location where a company can come in and be 15 minutes away from the Strip and do some testing and then be back to the Strip in hour or two.
“We told them we have some space at a 500-acre campus that’s also situated in a perfect spot in our community, right there in the southeast side where you’ve got space also immediately to the south of the campus next to lots of federal land.”
The NIAS will help manage the site and ensure the companies using it are following the law and FAA regulations.
The site will never turn a profit. Neither Nevada nor the NIAS can charge people to use the airspace at the range or any of the others they help manage — that’s part of the agreement with the FAA. But it can and will charge for the support services they offer.
“What we do provide and charge for are range fees to cover the costs and our labor and whatever materials we need to support the flight operation,” Barker said. ”Typically, we work with whatever entity actually owns the test range and we vet the clients and then go out to the range with the clients and fly with them. We don’t necessarily fly the aircrafts, but we make sure they are following the rules.”
While the range may never be a moneymaker all on its own, Coffee still considers it a feather in Henderson’s economic cap.
“It’s certainly the case that the drone industry is a growth industry,” she said. “And right as this industry sector emerges, all of us in terms of economic development want to be sure we’re positioned to attract our share. The industry provides great jobs and sustainable higher-wage jobs. So it’s not surprising that everyone’s trying to find their niche in it.”
While the official groundbreaking ceremony will be Wednesday, grading has already begun and is scheduled to be finished in January. After that, work will start on the HUVR facilities.