Drone systems to create Oklahoma jobs, officials say
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, January 17, 2013
1/17/13 at 4:24 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma is poised to create 600 jobs in the three years after unmanned aerial systems are integrated into U.S. airspace, Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said Wednesday.
The organization is the largest nonprofit dedicated exclusively to advancing the drone industry.
Toscano said the small unmanned aircraft are expected to be integrated into U.S. airspace by 2015. His organization commissioned a study to determine the economic impact on the country and state by state.
Some of the report's findings were announced Tuesday at a press conference featuring Toscano, Gov. Mary Fallin and Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever.
The economic impact to Oklahoma in the three years is $57.6 million, Toscano said.
Fallin said the state is projected to create 593 jobs from 2015 to 2017 after the Federal Aviation Administration completes a plan to integrate drones into U.S. airspace.
The study, which has not been released, was conducted by Darryl Jenkins, an aviation industry economist and former professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Fallin said the devices can be used to assist emergency responders and for public safety.
Toscano said they can also be used in farming operations and in the oil and gas industry.
"As we all know, the aerospace industry has been very important to Oklahoma's economy and is one of our top industries in our state," Fallin said. "It supports around 150,000 jobs. It contributes about $12 billion in industrial output into our economy and also provides an annual payroll of $5 billion in our state. The industry will continue to be a big part of Oklahoma's future."
Fallin said she hopes the state will continue to be a leader in technology, research and development.
Unmanned aerial systems is one of the fastest-growing aerospace industries in the nation, the governor said.
Last year Fallin formed a council led by McKeever that produced a strategic plan to develop the industry in Oklahoma.
McKeever said programs already have been developed at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma to train students in the field. And the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has established a test facility for unmanned aerial vehicles in Elgin that takes advantage of unrestricted air space at Fort Sill.
McKeever said several of Oklahoma's top industries, including agriculture, oil and gas production, and weather research also are prime targets for the commercial application of drones. He added that public safety agencies likely would be the first commercial consumers of the technology, which can be particularly useful in search-and-rescue operations and to survey disaster scenes such as tornadoes or flooding.
But there are some who worry about the law enforcement applications of unmanned aerial vehicles and how they could be used to monitor citizens.
Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Oklahoma chapter, said he is working with lawmakers to develop restrictions on how law enforcement can use drones.
"While there are plenty of good uses for domestic drones, like searching for a missing child in the woods, we anticipate that outside of those emergency situations, that law enforcement should be required to get a probable cause warrant before they use these for surveillance purposes," he said.
McKeever said surveillance is not a primary application for law enforcement, but he acknowledged that there are some legitimate concerns about how the drones can be used.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Original Print Headline: Drone systems heralded as a job creator for state
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465