MIDWEST CITY — Oklahoma could know by year's end whether it will be chosen as a site for federal tests on the safety of unmanned aircraft, or drones, for domestic use, Gov. Mary Fallin said Monday.
Oklahoma is vying to become one of six Federal Aviation Administration sites to test the safety of unmanned aircraft.
Expanding Oklahoma's aerospace sector is crucial to diversifying the state's economy, Fallin said during an event organized by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
“The aerospace sector is one of the top five economic silos and is key to continue (growing) our economy,” Fallin said during the State of Aerospace luncheon at the Reed Center in Midwest City.
Fallin has been an aggressive campaigner for growing Oklahoma's aerospace sector. In June, she led a state delegation to promote Oklahoma to aerospace companies at the Paris Air Show.
“We had a lot of companies that were interested in Oklahoma,” Fallin said. “The goal is to attract more investment to the state and create more jobs.”
The aerospace industry already has indirectly or directly created 150,000 jobs in Oklahoma that generate nearly $12 billion in economic activity for the state, Fallin said.
Oklahoma is well positioned to become a leader in the burgeoning unmanned aircraft industry, Fallin said.
A recent $1 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security is going to test unmanned aircraft systems at Fort Sill. Fallin also praised Oklahoma State University for establishing a graduate program in unmanned aerial systems.
Officials from Tinker Air Force Base and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex who spoke at the event said the base and the air logistics center are well positioned to weather federal defense budget cuts that include a smaller U.S. Air Force.
The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex saw its workloand grow by 25 percent from 2008 to 2012, but then its workload was reduced by 12 percent from 2012 to 2013. However, the complex saw efficiencies and productivity improve during the same period of time, ensuring the complex with its 8,500 workers will remain a relevant facility for the Defense Department in the coming year, said Kevin O'Connor, vice director of the Air Logistics Complex.
“We will find ways to adapt and flourish in this new norm,” O'Connor said.