May 9, 2013 10:20:36 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi is bidding for one of six sites nationwide to test unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.
The state submitted its proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday, according to a Mississippi Development Authority.
State officials say the FAA should choose Mississippi because it has three manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as a flight laboratory at Mississippi State University. Congress has directed the FAA to use test sites to determine how to integrate current air traffic with unmanned vehicles. Today, such drones can only be flown with special permission, and can't be used for commercial purposes.
"There's a lot of potential out there for commercial use of unmanned aerial systems," said Manning McPhillips, the chief administrative officer of the MDA. "This is a huge growth area in the aerospace industry."
FAA spokesman Les Dorr said 50 sites in 37 states had indicated they would submit proposals. The FAA won't finance the test, Dorr said, meaning bidders have to find some way to pay. McPhillips said Mississippi can use most of its existing assets at no cost, including airspace at Camp Shelby, Stennis Space Center and Gulf of Mexico test ranges controlled by the Air National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport.
"The beauty of this is there is no upfront cost to the state," McPhillips said.
Mississippi State University would collect data from tests and conduct research, said David Shaw, the university's vice president for research and development. He said research projects could include finding ways to improve communication between ground controllers and aircraft, encrypting control signals to prevent outsiders from hijacking a drone, and studies of how to improve the airworthiness of drones.
MDA officials said Camp Shelby's more than 10 years of experience in safely operating drones is a big plus for Mississippi's plan. They also cite the airspace over the Gulf of Mexico and MSU's Raspet Flight Research Laboratory.