Drones could be tested in Washington state

SEATTLE (AP) - The airport at Moses Lake could be one of six places in the nation where the Federal Aviation Administration tests drones.

A coalition of agencies and organizations in the state is bidding to create the Pacific Northwest Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight Center at the Grant County International Airport.

The airport is the former Larson Air Force Base and has been used by the military and the Boeing Co. for flight training and testing.

As proposed, drones also would be flown in other parts of Washington, including near Yakima, Republic, Grays Harbor and Dallesport.

The FAA is expected to pick six sites by the end of the year to test unmanned aircraft systems as it develops guidelines for using drones in U.S. air space. Known for their use by CIA and military in surveillance and deadly missile attacks, drones may also be used in search and rescue, weather forecasting, crop management and environmental surveys.

The state coalition bidding for testing is led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at Richland and Innovate Washington, the state agency that promotes technology innovation.

"Our proposal offers essentially a turn-key option, from complete ground support operations for fueling, maintenance and emergency response, to the existing control tower with regional radar systems, ample hangar space, conference rooms and advanced communications networks," Steve Stein, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory project manager, said Thursday in a release. The lab is run by Battelle for the Energy Department.

The testing would build on the aerospace industry in the state and could encourage more private research and development, said Bart Phillips, vice president for economic development for Innovate Washington.

Drones currently are built in the state by a Boeing company, The Insitu Group, which has operations along the Columbia River Gorge and employs about 800 people. The ScanEagle used by the Navy is 4-feet long and has a 10-foot wingspan. It can remain in the air for 15 hours.

Seattle police had considered using small drones to provide aerial views in certain circumstances, but the idea was dropped in February after community protests.

A measure that would have regulated the use of drones by state and local agencies died in the Washington Legislature in March without a vote. It was opposed by Boeing.

Other members of the drone coalition bidding for the Moses Lake testing center are the ports of Moses Lake and Grays Harbor, Washington State University, University of Washington, Washington Army National Guard, the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing at Everett Community College, the governor's Office of Aerospace, the state Department of Commerce, and economic development agencies in Klickitat and Grays Harbor counties.
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