The process likely will be completed in phases beginning with rural areas and moving into cities.
Drones in Oklahoma
To best take advantage of the reduced restrictions, the Tinker Business and Industrial Park has created the Unmanned Systems Innovation Center, which will test business and other uses for drones in the state. The center is focusing on uses in agriculture, oil and natural gas pipelines, utilities, emergency first responders and weather forecasting.
“When the Air Force began to train more pilots on unmanned systems than manned systems, that was the acid test in what the future holds,” Thomas said. “We became convinced that what we need is a sense of place, a place you can congregate and collaborate different elements of an industry in a single location.”
The research center hopes to build on the experience the state already has enjoyed with unmanned aircraft.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012 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 state last year missed out on becoming home to one of six FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft.
“The state plan we have developed and outlined did not include being selected as an FAA test site. We did make the effort because we could see it would be an added bonus, but the fact we were not selected is not going to deviate us from the strategy we started upon,” McKeever said.
“We have worked with other federal agencies. We are looking at discussions with FAA and Homeland Security about the next phase of the Homeland Security test program.”
While McKeever and his team had hoped the state would be selected for an FAA site, he said there are some advantages to having been passed over.
“Those six test sites will be focused on developing technologies and procedures for safe integration into the national airspace,” McKeever said. “We can now focus on the application of the technology. We will develop the applications and be in position to take advantage of that when it opens up.”