Oklahoma will not be home to one of six FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday the sites will be in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, dashing the hopes of Oklahoma officials who hoped the state would be included.
“We are disappointed, but the strategic plan the state put in place did not have this as a key component,” said Stephen McKeever, the state's secretary of science and technology.
“We're still going to move forward with our plans to develop this industry anyway. Since we already have one federal test site through the Department of Homeland Security, we'll be continuing to move forward anyway.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year chose Oklahoma for its unmanned aircraft testing and training facility. The Oklahoma Training Center-Unmanned Systems facility near Elgin tests systems to aid in public safety drone missions.
The competition for an FAA test site included 25 entities in 24 states, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said during a call with reporters on Monday.
Gov. Mary Fallin and her administration have sought to develop the unmanned aircraft industry in Oklahoma.
The efforts have included establishing a graduate program at Oklahoma State University in unmanned aerial systems. Eighteen Oklahoma-based companies already are actively engaged in the industry.
“This doesn't deter our plans for Oklahoma to become a major unmanned aerial systems center in the U.S. for both commercial and military applications,” Fallin said in a statement Monday. “Oklahoma already has established a national reputation as a great place for UAS testing and investment.”
McKeever said he is confident the industry will continue to develop in Oklahoma.
“It's still very positive. Even without this test site, we already have a growing industry,” he said. “We have a lot of tests and evaluations that will continue here in the state, and the industry partnerships will continue. We're still very positive about the future for Oklahoma.”
Not everyone is as optimistic.
Rep. Paul Wesselhoff, R-Moore, said he fears the state could lose momentum.
“I'm hoping these startup companies stay in Oklahoma because Oklahoma is a very business-friendly state. However, I fear they will gravitate to the states selected as test sites,” Wesselhoff said.
Wesselhoff sponsored a bill last year that would have prohibited putting weapons on drones and limited their use for surveillance on citizens without a warrant. The bill passed a House committee last year but was temporarily shelved at Fallin's request to protect the state's application with the FAA.
Wesselhoff said his bill did not affect the FAA's decision.
“They chose states that had legislation in place, which ours does not,” he said. “My bill didn't pertain to any development or testing of the technology ... There's no way that bill would detour or discourage the FAA from choosing Oklahoma.”
This doesn't deter our plans for Oklahoma to become a major unmanned aerial systems center in the U.S. for both commercial and military applications.”
Gov. Mary Fallin,