State makes smart push for drones

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Just how much influence does Colorado have at the national level? We apparently are on the verge of finding out.

As was brought up here last month, a nationwide frenzy has erupted over plans by the federal government to create six test sites for unmanned aircraft systems (or, as they’re commonly called, drones) across the country. After a request for proposals from the Federal Aviation Administration, which required a rapid response, no fewer than 50 applications came from 37 states by the May 6 deadline.

Colorado provided one of those proposals, and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance was involved in developing it. Perhaps the most impressive ingredient of the state’s presentation was a supportive letter signed by nearly all of Colorado’s congressional delegation as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper. The group included Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Mark Udall and Reps. Doug Lamborn, Diana DeGette, Scott Tipton, Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter.

Granted, two of the state’s congressmen, Jared Polis, D-Boulder, and Cory Gardner, R-Greeley, didn’t participate, apparently because they have philosophical concerns about drones invading privacy. Polis helped introduce anti-drone legislation a few months ago, so his position is clear.

But that’s not stopping the bipartisan effort, and the letter states clearly, “We want to emphasize that the safety and constitutionally guaranteed privacy of our constituents is paramount. … Our first responsibility is to ensure that Colorado UAS test-site operations would not violate the privacy or jeopardize the safety of any American.”

Granted, Colorado has a lot to offer, as the letter indicates by calling our state “a significant hub for national space activity,” given the “thousands of military personnel engaged in aeronautics, aviation and space research, testing and training operations.” We know all about that, having Schriever and Peterson Air Force bases in our midst, along with the Air Force Academy. And it’s not just a military effort, given the emphasis on space-related programs and research at the University of Colorado and University of Denver.

As permitted in the RFP, Colorado’s concept calls for having multiple testing locations, given the state’s diverse geographical features. And the proposal surely will win big points because the Colorado coalition includes “close to 100 team members, representing 10 regional economic development agencies, seven universities, five industry associations, two state agencies and dozens of private companies.” Already, they’re projecting more than 1,000 new jobs on the front end, if Colorado is selected.

It all sounds so positive. But can this state get one of the six sites to be chosen by the FAA and announced by Dec. 31? That’s not a guarantee. Despite how strong this state’s power play might look, there’s a potential problem in the FAA’s requirements. The test sites, according to FAA documents, “should provide an environment and opportunity to test … maritime (launch/maneuver/recovery) capability.”

Maritime means oceans, and Colorado doesn’t have big water. Of course, Florida doesn’t have mountains, either.

Another standard is a high level of funding, which Colorado hasn’t committed yet. Having the governor on board is important, but up-front money wasn’t part of the state’s proposal.

As long as the FAA doesn’t apply all of its requirements to every site, Colorado shouldn’t lose out because of the maritime issue. But the funding might be another story.

We’ll see whether bipartisan influence can carry the day.