Springs, Denver team to attract drone-testing program

The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC has joined with the Denver Metro EDC and Front Range Airport to promote the state as a test site for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Front Range Airport, which is south of Denver International Airport, is the suggested location for the testing site.

Brian Binn, president of military affairs for the Chamber/EDC, said Colorado Springs would benefit from the program in several ways.

“There’s a Springs connection because Fort Carson is very interested in drones,” Binn said. “And the (Air Force) Academy is doing research on unmanned flights. Depending on what the flight patterns look like, they can use Peterson Air Field. It makes sense.”

Colorado already has a strong aerospace presence, with the industry providing $3 billion in payroll in the state. Aerospace jobs have grown 6.9 percent in the past five years, said Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver EDC.

Even though the sites won’t be located in the Springs, the city still stands to benefit, Binn said. The effort is part of a regional approach to economic development.

“We really believe that if we present a united front, we’ll have a better opportunity for it,” he said. “And what benefits the Front Range, benefits everyone. It’s so competitive, we can’t just look at things from a single perspective.”

The federal defense bill recently passed in Congress instructs the Federal Aviation Administration to find six test sites in the United States for the unmanned drone testing. The sites will focus on how to integrate the UAVs into the nation’s defense and security structure.

The collaboration means the Colorado proposal will gain the approval of the state’s federal Congressional delegation, as well as the governor.

The FAA is required to have a plan for a way forward in 180 days, Binn said. The groups are waiting for some feedback from the agency before they finalize the Colorado proposal. Binn said Oklahoma and a few other states have already thrown their hats in the ring.

“We have to be proactive about this,” he said. “Colorado not only has a strong military presence, it has a strong aerospace presence. We think the state is a good fit.”