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Drone Advocates Push for Testbed in Pennsylvania

Unmanned aircraft industry leaders say they are ready to set up a network of sensors that would enable drones to deliver emergency medical supplies, create detailed maps and assist emergency planning across Cambria County.

(TNS) — Unmanned aircraft industry leaders say they are ready to set up a network of sensors that would enable drones to deliver emergency medical supplies, create detailed maps and assist emergency planning across Cambria County.

"This is shovel-ready. We are ready to push the button," Art Martynuska, Cambria County Department of Emergency Services deputy director, told more than 50 community and industry leaders on Friday at John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.

The problem is that Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit drones from flying outside the operator's line of sight.

There are seven specific areas of the country in which the FAA has relaxed that rule as it studies the future of unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace.

Local proponents have created a network with national industry leaders and have been developing a new FAA test site location in Cambria County that could eventually cover Somerset, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

To get the FAA's approval, it will take about $3 million to create the network of sensors for local drone operators to join the program, said John Eberhardt, chief technology officer of Advanced Technology Applications LLC, of Great Falls, Virginia. The drones would be controlled by computer software linked to the sensors.

The local team, led by Larry Nulton, of Nulton Aviation Services, has enlisted the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which developed a successful test site in Alaska and would set up Johnstown's site under that approval.

The partnership will better enable the university to show how drones are being used to save lives and improve the quality of life in remote areas, University of Alaska Fairbanks Business Manager James Parrish said on Friday.

"We get to partner with different organizations to test and evaluate (systems) in the lower 48 states," Parrish said. "We are building those collaborations."

Friday's event was held in the 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron facility on Airport Road. Other speakers from participating organizations included the Rev. Malachi Van Tassell, St. Francis University president; David Heath, Pennsylvania Drone Association executive director; John Benhart, Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor; Dave Krause, Influential Drones president; and Stephen Kocsis, Cambria County Geographic Information Systems director.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania has been operating the only unmanned aircraft training center in the state for several years, Benhart said.

Developing a test site will not only help those students, but also enhance medical care in rural areas and help to fulfill the goals of the university's plan to develop an osteopathic medical school on the campus.

St. Francis is already working with the airport on its pilot training option and a new aviation maintenance program slated to launch in August. An infrastructure for drones would enhance studies through the university's Center for Cyber Defense Education, Van Tassell said.

"We don't want this to be an isolated institution," he said.

The Johnstown airport is the ideal location for an unmanned aircraft hub, Eberhardt said. For one thing, it is midway between Cleveland and Washington and could serve as the hub of a Cleveland- to- Washington drone route, with potential to add more cities within a 200-mile radius, Eberhardt said.

"We have the right people," he said. "We have the education training system necessary and we have the assets. This airport is an underutilized asset. And this region actually works together and wants to get it done. That's why this is the right place."

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R- Richland Township, told the group he is working to support the efforts.

State Reps. Jim Rigby, R- Ferndale, and Frank Burns, D- East Taylor Township, were also in attendance, along with elected officials or their staff members from Somerset, Indiana and Westmoreland counties. U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R- Washington; John Joyce, R- Blair; and Glenn "GT" Thompson, R- Centre, had staff members at the event.

"This is a passion for all of us," Nulton said, concluding the program.

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