Springfield-made drone approved for utility work, sign of job growth

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Springfield-made drone approved for utility work, sign of job growth

By the numbers:

2,700 — Anticipated unmanned aircraft jobs in Ohio by 2025

100,000 — Anticipated new drone jobs nationwide

$$82 billion — Estimated economic impact of drone industry nationwide

Sources: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

Staying with the story

The Springfield News-Sun digs into important stories about how drones could change the economy, including recent coverage of new programs at Clark State and Sinclair community colleges.

A Springfield manufacturer delivered a small drone Tuesday to a Darke County company that’s one of the first in the Midwest allowed to use the technology to inspect power lines and substations.

SelectTech Geospatial, based at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, produced the unmanned aircraft for U.S. Aerobatix.

Demand for jobs in the industry will likely pick up soon as more companies like U.S. Aerobatix see business opportunities for the technology, said Frank Beafore, executive director of SelectTech.

“This is just the beginning of a whole new and rapidly expanding industry utilizing UAS,” Beafore said.

Both state and local business leaders have identified the growing field as a key to the region’s economic future. The industry could employ 2,700 workers from Ohio by 2025, according to a report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The industry could lead to more than 100,000 new jobs nationwide with an economic impact of more than $82 billion, the trade group’s report says.

U.S. Aerobatix received a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month. It will use the drone to fly close to power lines, cell phone towers, wind turbines and solar power panels to inspect them using sensors and infrared cameras.

The company based near Greenville is small but will grow as it picks up more work, Vice President Jason Adams said. He singled out programs like Sinclair Community College and said he would likely look to its students to operate the drones.

Using the unmanned craft will make it safer for workers who inspect the tall structures, Adams said, and it will also likely lead to lower costs for customers while providing more in-depth inspections.

“We knew there was a major need for this,” Adams said. “It could save lives.”

Clark State Community College in Springfield also operates a precision agriculture program that teaches students to analyze data collected by drones. Earlier this year, Clark State received authorization to fly a drone over designated fields owned by the city of Springfield and leased by local farmers. SelectTech also provided the drone used in that program.

Springfield is also the home of the Ohio/Indiana UAS Test Center, which supports universities and government agencies to research and commercialize the technology.

“That’s the beauty of being in this area, is we have a lot of exceptional resources here,” Adams said.

Students in Sinclair’s program have already received offers from local companies even though the drone industry is in its early stages, said Deb Norris, vice president of workforce development and corporate services for the community college.

Woolpert Inc., a mapping and surveying firm in Dayton, received approval last December to be one of the first companies in the U.S. to fly drones commercially. Woolpert has already expressed interest in hiring Sinclair students to analyze data collected from drones, Norris said.

Another area company, 3D Aerial Solutions, has said it expects to begin flying a mini-drone over Ohio farms this spring to allow farmers to monitor the health of their crops.

“The more that these announcements are coming out, we’re seeing this forward momentum that companies are starting to figure out how UAS fits into their business model,” Norris said. “They’re going to need to have that trained workforce with those additional skills.”

U.S. Aerobatix has received support from several utility companies, Adams said, including Dayton Power & Light.

DP&L officials declined to confirm they are working specifically with U.S. Aerobatix, but said they are exploring using drones.

“The high resolution camera and infrared technology can provide utilities with a wealth of knowledge for a lower cost than conventional inspections, while not putting technicians and inspectors in danger while operating at heights,” DP&L officials said in a statement.

One of the reasons U.S. Aerobatix worked with SelectTech is because it can produce drones locally, Adams said. The company plans to grow slowly at first, he said, but added momentum is growing locally in the industry.

“We want to walk before we run,” Adams said.

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