Drone zone?

State bid for aerial vehicle tech test center could include Sawyer

Local officials hope that if the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium is successful in its bid to become the prime U.S. test center and industry cluster for drones, some of the projects and development of that technology could take place at Sawyer International Airport.

The consortium, which was launched last month downstate, has elected officials, government agencies, academia and industry focused on its goal.

In February, the Federal Aviation Administration put out a request for proposals which has entities across the country competing for six drone test site designations, with those designations to be named by Dec. 31.

The beginnings of the Michigan drone test site initiative began in 2011 when Explorer Solutions – a Canadian aviation and aerospace consulting firm which helped create the Upper Michigan Green Aviation Coalition – began working with Alpena County on developing a niche, similar to work the firm had done in the U.P. at the Sawyer and Houghton and Delta County airports.

“They started going through that same process of looking at the assets and cross-referencing that with where the industry was headed,” said Vikki Kulju, executive director of Telkite Enterprises at Sawyer, which serves as the management entity for the green aviation coalition. “They came up with this unmanned aerial vehicle test center type concept.”

Kulju told the Marquette County Board in a presentation Tuesday that coincidentally or fortunately for Alpena County, the FAA then released it proposals request for the drone test sites in February.

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