Oregon UAS test range receives $545k boost

By Luke Geiver | March 25, 2015

The state of Oregon is seeding the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry before commercial activity starts to grow rapidly, according to Ryan Frank, spokesperson for Business Oregon, the state’s economic development organization. To help the industry grow, Oregon has added to its previous investment in UAS, this time announcing a $545,000 investment towards the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration selected test site called the Pendleton UAS Range.

“We’ve made a significant investment as a community in unmanned aerial systems, and we believe this industry is about to take off,” said Phillip Houk, mayor of Pendleton. “We think there are going to be some real opportunities for Pendleton and Eastern Oregon that will pay dividends for the state.”

The city has already invested in the UAS test range. The state’s recent contribution will be used for hangars, storage and communications equipment. “The main thing that the money is targeted for is the nuts and bolts of the operation,” Frank said. The construction of the new infrastructure will be complete in early 2016, but test flights and UAS activity is already under way. According to Frank, two UAS firms have received section 333 exemptions to fly at the sites, and more than 20 others are currently seeking to do the same.

For Frank and his team, the UAS industry represents a major reason for excitement in the state. Since the 1980s, the state’s rural population has been declining due to a decline in natural resource utilization and other reasons, he said, and the UAS test ranges, all of which are located in remote areas, offer job possibilities now and into the future.

Although the UAS industry is still in its infancy throughout most of the state, Frank believes it can, and will, exemplify what economic developers wish for. The UAS test sites should be cyclical, he said. The first cycle involves outside companies flying in to test at the sites while investing in local lodging and food. Next, those companies will invest more time and effort near the test sites as they expand operations and capabilities. Eventually, those firms will open regional centers, operations offices or more in the area.

The Pendleton range is already planning or future growth, Frank said, and is looking at building an industrial park that can house UAS operations ranging from platform manufacturing to software development. The state already has a long list of UAV startups that Frank believes will soon represent great industry stories.

The Pendleton range is one of three ranges in the state. Each location is testing different applications, ranging from an agriculture focus to wildfire monitoring.

During the investment announcement, Gov. Kate Brown told attendees that the commercial UAS industry is expected to grow five fold over the next five years and that the Pendleton facility could help to create roughly 100 family-wage jobs.

The Oregon test ranges are led by SOAR Oregon, a non-profit group funded by the state. The group is made-up of several industry veterans and experienced managers. The ranges are part of the greater Pan Pacific UAS Test Range complex that also includes ranges in Alaska and Hawaii.