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Aviation bill would be boon for local droneport

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller last week announced his priorities in a senate aviation bill that would attract new airline routes to small Nevada airports, drive drone research and acquire federal dollars for airports to build facilities with several modes of transportation.

“Given the major role aviation plays in Nevada’s economy, I am particularly grateful to have secured numerous priorities in the FAA reauthorization legislation that will benefit our state,” Heller, R.-Nev., wrote in a statement about the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016.

Two sections of the aviation bill include Heller’s priorities to provide Nevada’s unmanned aircraft test sites with more freedom to partner with the industry to test drone-related technology.

Nevada is one of six test sites in the nation and is home to the Eldorado Droneport, situated next to one of the original four test ranges in the state. The port has operated out of Boulder City since June and applied to the FAA in December to construct an airport.

“Boulder City has been one of the enthusiastic unmanned aerial vehicle testing sites,” said Richard Jost, a professor who teaches drone law at UNLV and is general counsel to the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, which manages Nevada’s UAS testing operations.

The sections of the 2016 bill Heller highlighted would direct administration at the FAA to streamline the application process for drone users who seek certificates of authorization at test sites, Jost said.

He compared the certificates of authorization approval process to checking out at a grocery story: Heller is seeking an express checkout lane for people applying for the certificates to fly at test sites. In the analogy, commercial and private applicants who operate outside test sites, such as those who want to take aerial photos to be used by a real estate company, would have to go through the regular checkout lanes, he said.

“Ideally, we’d like all COA applications to be handled efficiently,” Jost said, but giving priority to certificates at test sites would allow the sites to accomplish what they were set up to do — research and collect data to help the FAA draft UAS regulations.

If the act is passed, airports such as McCarran International Airport could use federal infrastructure funds to build facilities that offer multiple modes of transportation such as buses, rails, taxis and ride-hailing services.

“This provision could improve tourist access and facilitate economic development opportunities in Nevada,” Heller wrote.

Under the act, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport would be considered a “small hub” and would qualify for more resources to attract new airline routes, and industries like mining could use drones for inspections, reducing risks to workers.

Contact Kimber Laux at klaux@bouldercityreview.com or 702-586-9401. Find her on Twitter: @lauxkimber

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