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Arizona’s unmanned aeronautical industry can reach new heights


From the first manned hot-air balloon flight in the 18th century to NASA’s recent mission to Mars, mankind has exhibited an innate desire to take aviation to new heights. With the swift progress in flight technology, it is easy to lose track of the fact that most of our history with aviation has been a small blip on the overall course of human development and innovation. Along these lines, nowhere else have we seen such rapid development as in the sector of unmanned systems. As much debate as there is on the topic, there is no disputing that unmanned is our future. 

I am proud to champion Aerospace Arizona Association’s work in this area. With the unmanned industry in its infancy, we have an opportunity to shape policy and economic development for our state that will last for decades and more. Our association not only serves as a leader in aerospace policy, we have taken the lead on expanding testing facilities by opening and operating the Benson UAS Test Site. Our mission is simple: Make Arizona the premier destination for unmanned research and development. 

Mignonne Hollis

Mignonne Hollis

So how do we get there? Since the Federal Aviation Administration implemented rules for use of unmanned systems, we have been working in partnership with state and federal entities to shape the future of the industry. There are a few things you should know:

First, the industry benefits from a streamlined national policy for the operation of unmanned systems. We need to make sure that this remains the case. Commercial, defense, first responders, and consumers all benefit from a clear and uniform policy across the United States. Attempts to regionalize the airspace and the policy around it create confusion, jeopardize safety, and compromise innovation.

Second, our state needs to aggressively pursue opportunities to create competitive advantages for Arizona. Our state is blessed with ideal weather for flying, but that is not enough to set us apart. We need to pursue tax and policy positions that help distinguish Arizona among the rest. 

How do we do this? While other venues are pursuing other more established industries, our state has an opportunity to invest in a relatively new and exponentially growing sector with unmanned systems. Efforts by New York and North Dakota have paid off. Unlike either, Arizona has the weather and restricted airspace to attract companies to our state. We also have established defense missions, like those at Fort Huachuca to drive commercial activity and innovation. We must protect and expand these missions. 

Finally, Arizona is blessed to have higher-education venues like its three universities and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. These institutions are hubs for innovation and help move the needle in a positive direction for the unmanned industry. Our investment in them and attracting the next generation of unmanned innovators to them is critical.

If you are already part of the rapidly evolving unmanned world or want to learn more about it, I invite you to sign up for our annual Unmanned Arizona Summit & Expo this November 7-8 in Mesa. Join the industry’s most respected thought leaders, technologists, and regulators by visiting our website at: unmannedarizona.org

Mignonne Hollis is Aerospace Arizona’s executive director and serves on the Arizona Association for Economic Development, Arizona Commerce Authority, and International Economic Development Council. 

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