Ribbon cutting a step toward the future

ALPENA – In 2011 the Alpena County Board of Commissioners embarked on a mission to find potential uses for its property on M-32 near the airport. It hired Explorer Solutions to find a niche market that would spur economic growth and the idea of drone testing, research and development surfaced?

While in the midst of the the county’s project the Federal Aviation Administration revealed it was looking to designate six locations as centers of excellence that would become leaders in the field of unmanned aircrafts.

After realizing the county had little chance of obtaining one of the designations on its own, it partnered with the state, several universities and private businesses from Michigan and Canada to form the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium. The group hired Explorer Solutions and SeaTech to collect the needed data and put together a proposal that may lead to a center of excellence being awarded to the state.

On Thursday the MIAASC held its launch press conference at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. During then event details were provided about how the organization was formed, what it has done to prepare for the enter of excellence proposal and what services it will offer in terms of unmanned aircraft testing, training and manufacturing.

Explorer Solutions senior partner Christian Perreault said Alpena and MIAASC have made the first cut that whittled the field of applicants from more than 50 to 25, but said there are other quality proposals the FAA will consider. He said he is confident in the proposal made and said Michigan and Alpena can offer the government everything it needs.

“The competition is going to be fierce, but I think ultimately the FAA will look at the assets the centers can offer,” Perreault said. “We have a lot of unique things to offer from the radar, the air space, the terrain, the water the international border. Those are a lot of assets.”

Aaron Cook, director of aviation for Northwestern Michigan College, said the technology for unmanned aircrafts and robotics in general are still in its infancy and that the field should boom for some time

“It is still in its infancy and it is still a new industry that needs to expand rapidly,” Cook said. “The advancement is similar to what we found for cell phones. This stuff is advancing so quickly and we need to make sure it will be a viable opportunity for the state and for people and businesses to want to come here.

Perreault said the MIAASC is not hedging its entire bet on the center of excellence. He said if for some reason the FAA denies Alpena its request, there is a plan to continue forward in providing unmanned aircraft business opportunities to those in the industry.

“The FAA test site would be an added value if we were to get it,” Perreault said. “We need to look at this for the long term. we are trying to build something that will last the next 100 years, or until the next aerospace paradigm comes in, but I don’t think I’ll be around long enough to see that happen.”

The FAA has indicated it could award the six locations the training sites anytime from the end of September to the end of the year.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.