New Kansas Post Aimed To Boost UAS Economy

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By John Celock

Kansas is on track to hire an official to coordinate the state’s work on unmanned aerial systems, in an effort to grow the industry in the state.

The Kansas Department of Transportation has announced plans to hire a UAS director within the department’s aviation division to focus on coordinating state policies with regards to UAS and working to grow the industry. The planned hiring comes as Kansas State Polytechnic University in Salina has received federal approval as the first in the nation entity to provide UAS flight training to students and commercial entities.

“We want to leverage that with the things like the National Guard’s presence in Salina and the potential for job growth in research and application in manufacturing,” state House Transportation and Public Safety Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Celock Report. “We want to start seeing those things growing with one another in that industry. Having a single point of contact who understands what is going on can help us harness those resources.”

Under the plan the UAS director will be KDOT’s point person on UAS issues, working with both higher education and the private sector on issues relating to the industry, along with coordinating with state and federal lawmakers on the issues involved. The director will also work on expanding the economic impact that UAS can have on the state.

“Kansas will continue to be known for aviation innovations and technology, while it takes on a leadership role in the development, manufacturing and safety of the rapidly-expanding UAS market,” state Transportation Secretary Mike King told The Celock Report in a statement.

Several other states with growing UAS industries have brought on point people to work on the subject. In neighboring Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has appointed Stephen McKeever, the executive director of the University Multispectral Laboratories at Oklahoma State University, as the science and technology secretary in her cabinet. The University Multispectral Laboratories at OSU handle UAS activities along with other issues. Fallin, who has attended national UAS conferences and is a former chairwoman of the Aerospace States Association, has designated McKeever to work on UAS issues in her administration.

Kansas – which has seen the UAS industry center itself in Salina – has been competing against other states including Oklahoma and North Dakota to position itself at the forefront of the industry. In November, the Federal Aviation Association awarded K-State Polytechnic the designation to provide the flight training to students and companies. The FAA designation expanded previous permission on the UAS training capabilities for the university.

K-State Polytechnic has centered much of its UAS research and development work and training on the uses the aircraft can have on agriculture and public safety. This includes field mapping and research for agriculture and being able to be the eyes of first responders in natural disasters. The first responder work would include having UAS aircraft flown over disaster areas looking for survivors, which would allow first responders to go where survivors are first and not looking at every site where a survivor may not be.

Claeys, who is the Legislature’s leading UAS advocate, said the research and development work at K-State Polytechnic has helped grow the industry and more needs to be done to focus on commercial application. He noted that with the focus on agriculture and public safety, Kansas is a good state for the UAS industry, and Salina offers several advantages. He noted that the K-State Polytechnic campus is near National Guard facilities along with the agricultural part of the state.

“We have several things here that are huge advantages not the least of which is that we are an agricultural state and 80 percent of the use for UAS will be in agriculture,” Claeys said. “We need to take that advantage and expand on it. The one thing we are not getting out of this is the sustained job growth.”

Claeys said the new UAS director will be tasked with working with local officials in Salina and business leaders to help with the economic development aspect of the UAS industry. As a part of the plan, the UAS director will work with the state Department of Commerce to put UAS related economic development on that agency’s radar. He said Commerce Department officials have expressed interest.

Claeys praised King for his work on UAS issues.

“We have shown how serious we are as a Legislature when it comes to the development of this industry. Our agencies are working proactively to assist in anyway they can,” he said. “They have been excellent partners in finding solutions. Specifically Mike King at the Department of Transportation who has been a great partner in having the foresight to recognize that this industry can be a job growth entity in the state.”


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