UAS experts look to capitalize on growing industry

By: Brandi Jewett , Forum News Service
 GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The developer of an unmanned aerial systems business park near Grand Forks said he wants to see aircraft in the sky as early as next year.

Tom Swoyer, principal of Grand Sky Development, added he wants to push the limits of current regulations to make that happen.

“We’re going to get in trouble. We’re going to pay fines to the FAA. We’re going to get in lawsuits… We’re going to pick a fight with the government,” Swoyer said. “I don’t want to wait for the government to tell us what the rules are.”

Grand Sky is a UAS-focused business park planned for 217 acres on Grand Forks Air Force Base. The park would have more than 1 million square feet of space for offices, classrooms, hangars, warehouses, shops and other needs of its tenants.

The land will be leased for 50 years by Grand Sky Development from the county, which in turn will lease it from the Air Force. The lease agreement is still being finalized.

Swoyer told attendees of the Economic Development Association of North Dakota’s annual fall conference on Wednesday he hopes to see the business park serve not only the Grand Forks area but act as a hub for a much larger industry in the state.

“This is the new Internet,” Swoyer said. “This is a business that is going to impact everyone in the world.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has banned commercial use of unmanned aircraft but is expected to release some guidelines for using the devices before the year’s end.

Swoyer said he doesn’t want to play catch-up by the time commercial UAS use may become legal.

Julie Theisen, director of business development for the state’s Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, agreed that the limitations on commercial UAS use are frustrating.

“It’s hindering everyone,” she said, adding it is difficult for some companies to find funding and research support because the FAA does not have a definite timeline for legalizing commercial use.

The test site staff has been approached by representatives from a number of industries including health care, transportation, energy and engineering.

Putting a number on the UAS industry’s potential economic impact in the United States in the coming decade isn’t easy with many numbers released by firms and trade groups being called conservative.

Brian Opp, manager of aerospace business development for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said one of these reports estimates UAS spending will reach $91 billion by 2020.

“Just think of how great it would be if North Dakota could get a sliver of a sliver of $91 billion” he told the crowd.

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