Consortium seeking greater exposure
The Michigan Advanced Aerial Systems Consortium is hosting its first Michigan Unmanned Air System Conference in Ann Arbor from Oct. 28-30. The conference is being held to show industry, government and educational leaders the benefits of supporting the unmanned aircraft project in the state.
It will serve as a platform that could lure potential customers wanting to take advantage of the future drone research and testing sites. It also will provide media a chance to learn more about the in initiative and report about it.
The conference is important because it will promote the MIAACS effort to be designated a Center of Excellence for unmanned aircraft research and development, Alpena officials said. If Michigan is awarded the center of excellence, it would become a hub for unmanned aircraft technology for private companies, as well as the military. A recent study projected there would be 1$.13 billion impact to Michigan’s economy in the first three years if the Federal Aviation Administration selects the MIAASC’s proposal.
MIAASC Chairman and Michigan Department of Transportation representative Rick Carlson there will be guest speakers at the conference and a lot of information about why Michigan and Alpena County are where people in the UAV industry should conduct business.
“This is really about introducing the MIAASC to the industry to a larger degree. We will be able to highlight and tell what applications we have for using unmanned aircraft systems,” Carlson said. “There will also be a road map and information about integrations should we get the center of excellence.”
The MIAASC can share with potential partners the facts that Michigan is home of the largest restricted airspace east of the Mississippi, has four seasons, has international boarders and multiple bases and bombing ranges the military could use. It also has partnered with seven universities, including the University of Michigan, Western Michigan and University of Texas-Dallas. There are eight airports that are associate partners and numerous government and private entities.
Commissioner Tom Mullaney, who is MIAASC vice chair, said he is pleased Michigan’s proposal has survived the first round of cuts and is among 25 vying for one of six designations. He said it has happened despite little media coverage outside of Alpena. He said the more support the consortium gets from news organizations, the better.
“We were really expecting more state-wide coverage, especially from larger media outlets, but for some reason it just isn’t coming,” Mullaney said. “We need one of the state offices to stimulate the media and have them get the information out there.”
Mullaney said the MIAASC has reached out to state and federal representatives and has received letters of support from several of them. He said he knows they are busy, but believes they will be critical in lobbying the FAA if the center of excellence in Michigan is to become a reality.
After the initial investment by Alpena County, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has chipped in to help cover the cost of hiring consultants Explorer Solutions and SeaTech to handle the process of gathering the needed data and submitting the application to the FAA. Carlson said the state has provided as much money as it can this year and hopes to get an appropriation next year to help put needed infrastructure in place should the center of excellence by awarded.
“There is just not a lot of money there right now. The MEDC is comfortable saying there is enough money to get us through the conference, but after that it will be a work in progress,” Carlson said. “I think there is a lot of support out there and obviously there is a need to money, but the state can’t fund this forever. The conference may also provide us an opportunity for more partnerships with private entities and investors.”
Carlson and Mullaney said the MIAASC is confident it will be looked upon favorably by the FAA when its proposal is reviewed and they believe there are many things it can provide the federal government that other states and groups can’t. A decision by the FAA was expected by the end of the year, but as the federal government continues it shut down, the issue may be dragged on longer than expected because many of the government employees involved are furloughed.
“My gut tells me that if the shut down continues to go on too long it is going to slow down the process and cause a significant delay,” Carlson said. “I believe the people involved in the process are considered non-essential and are not working on it. If it only last a week, then I don’t think the delay will be too bad, but if it drags on then who knows how long it will take until they finish the process.”
Mullaney said everyone is on the same page and it needs to remain that way. He said this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along often and the benefits will be felt from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.
“People need to wake up and take advantage the situation and opportunity, because if they don’t it isn’t going to be here forever,” Mullaney said. “If we don’t get all of the support we need, somebody else will.”