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Drone industry begins to take off

Facing a crowd of about 100 curious faces with a Cessna 206 to his back, Gov. Brian Sandoval spoke with calm excitement about a new local company ready to take the next step in the state’s young drone industry.

“Today is a day of validation,” Sandoval said about ArrowData, the Las Vegas-based aerial data services company hoping to make strides in the business of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The company’s official launch was held Friday afternoon inside a hangar at the Boulder City Municipal Airport with high-ranking state and city officials in attendance.

ArrowData’s president, Nevada native Mike Bradshaw, said the company’s goal is to expand the drone industry in his home state. Though ArrowData currently utilizes manned aircraft, it recently brought on 22 employees to help get its drones going.

Bradshaw said ArrowData will help in myriad situations such as public safety, entertainment, training and aerojournalism.

In 2013, Nevada was the third state to be designated as a testing site for drones. Boulder City, Fallon Municipal Airport, Reno-Stead Airport and the Desert Rock Airport at the Nevada National Security Site are the state’s four testing sites.

Alaska, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia also were designated for drone testing.

“Basing our operations in Nevada will allow us to expand and increase high-paying, high-tech jobs (in Nevada),” Bradshaw said.

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee said upwards of 15,000 people statewide could eventually be working in the drone business if the industry blossoms into what state and local officials are expecting. Lee, who had a drone deliver him a copy of his speech during his State of the City address Jan. 27, said he’s looking forward to building a stronger relationship with Boulder City in order to help expand the drone industry.

“Fifteen thousand (people) equals our mining industry in Nevada. This could be a huge game-changer for us,” Lee said. “This is real economy coming to our area.”

According to Lee, a drone systems operator makes about $80,000 per year. The average pilot, he said, makes about $110,000 per year.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been reluctant to hand out certificates for drone operations since designating permission to the six states in 2013.

Sandoval said he’d like to see the FAA speed up the process a bit, but understands the importance of taking time to develop the new, innovative industry.

“This is new, so you have to be patient in terms of developing any rules because you have to mix the civil air space with these types of aircraft,” he said. “I think it’s important we be slow, steady and thoughtful, but the best part of it is that they’re happening in Nevada.”

The governor also said he expects the economic impact to be “billions” for the state once the industry kicks into full gear.

“What we’re really trying to do is grow an industry, not just have a great test site,” said Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

According to Sandoval, 86 percent of Nevada is federal land, but the Silver State has the most usable air space of any state in the country. The launch of ArrowData was part of what he called “the new Nevada.”

As part of ArrowData’s launch, the company plans to exhibit at the 2015 National Association of Broadcasters trade show April 13-16 in Las Vegas. They currently have a hangar at the Cheyenne Air Center in North Las Vegas.

“Ten years from now, 20 years from now, this is going to be normal,” Sandoval said.

“When it comes to aviation, this is all going to be built here in our great state.”

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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