H-SANTA MARIA

Aug 22, 2013 8:16 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

SM airport could be future launch site for drones

The Central Coast could become home to a drone launch site.

The Santa Maria Airport's Board of Directors met to consider joining with the Ventura County Department of Airports and the Indian Wells Valley Airport District, which have applied to be drone test sites.

The Santa Maria Airport would be a location where drone systems could be recovered, refueled and then re-launched.

The Federal Aviation Administration intends to start using drones in national airspace.

Drones are remotely controlled aircraft and are used most often in surveillance and military missions, but they could have many more uses if they fly in unrestricted skies, like on the Central Coast.

"It could possibly be a launch and recovery site," said Santa Maria Airport General Manager Chris Hastert.

Hastert says the FAA is launching its Unmanned Aircraft Systems program to test drones in the sky with other aircraft.

"Right now most of the unmanned systems are operated in restricted areas on military bases and so you don't have to worry about other aircraft or safety," said Hastert.

Hastert says if Ventura County and Indian Wells are chosen as test sites, the Santa Maria Airport would also be in the running to be a launch site.

"That could mean anything from working up and down the coast and some of the ranges that are off site and if they need to come in and refuel," said Hastert.

Hastert says the drones could eventually be used in agriculture, weather tracking and search and rescue

"A fire department could use it for scoping the perimeters of fires, looking into areas they can't get to by foot and search and rescue," said Hastert.

But is the Central Coast ready for a drone launch site?

Feelings are mixed.

"I think in this day in age it's going to be more and more what we lead to," said Santa Maria resident Heather Carreno.

"I'm sure that for the reasons they want to do it are good reasons. It just seems there are so many opinions on it being something of surveillance," said Santa Maria resident Leyland Sinclair.

Hastert says studies show commercial unmanned drones could create 17,000 jobs in California and put $2 billion in the state economy over the next ten years.

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