Airport awaits ‘center of excellence’ designation

ALPENA – The Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium is busy behind the scenes awaiting the Federal Aviation Administration to make its selection for the six center of excellence designation it will designate for unmanned aircraft training, testing and development.

Earlier this month the consortium hosted its first conference to promote Alpena and the rest of Michigan as a top location for unmanned aircraft business, and according to Alpena County Commissioner Cam Habermehl the group remains confident Alpena can land the federal designation and if not, that businesses specializing in the field will take advantage of the services the Alpena County Regional Airport and other partners can offer.

Habermehl said the time is drawing near and FAA is expected to make an announcement on who is selected to be a center of excellence by the end of the year. He said the MIAASC proposal is a good one and the mood is a confident one. He said there was some chatter at the conference about how the FAA might release the names of the chosen.

“One of the issues discussed was the FAA may come out and not give all six at once,” Habermehl said. “They may grant one and then in March grant another one or two and maybe more another month or two later. They could spread them out over the next six months or year or they could give them all out at once. Nobody really knows for sure what is going to happen.”

Habermehl said with or without the center of excellence tag development and unmanned aircraft activity in Alpena is likely. He said MIAASC already has been approached by firms inquiring about doing business. Habermehl said the companies, which he can’t reveal at this time, currently are doing business at another location, but are open to cheaper and appealing options.

“I feel good about our chances to get the center of excellence, but we were approached about more information. One was out of North Carolina and were asking us about flying out of Alpena and it wasn’t only if we become a center,” Habermehl said. “Where they fly now is real expensive and it is hard to get a date to fly and if your date is canceled and have to wait quite a while before they could fly again. They would just like to come up here. We have the space and we should be able to get them in and fly.”

Habermehl said there is county property on Airport Road that can be leased to companies that want to develop near the airport. He said there is another large section that has been surveyed and plans are in place for water, sewer and roads to be installed. Habermehl said it is unlikely the state is going to offer financial assistance to get the needed infrastructure work done, but that there are ways the county can still get it finished.

“As far as I can see the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is not looking at helping us with any kind of work at all,” Habermehl said. “We do have some other options out there and we do have other property that is ready to go. We can start developing there now and as we start to grow we can start moving into the other part.”

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