Arizona lawmakers push for more in-state drone testing
F.A.A. says privacy concerns a reason for delaying its decision
Reporter: Justin Schecker
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Aerial drones fight terrorism in the Middle East and track drug cartels along our border with Mexico. Now, some Arizona lawmakers are pushing for more drone testing to come to the state.
Arizona is already home to the largest unmanned aircraft training site in the world at Ft. Huachuca. Some state representatives want the federal government to make to make Arizona one of six sites for testing drones in civil airspace.
Defense contractors such as Raytheon and Boeing would surely benefit, but for state representative Tom Forese from Chandler, bringing more drone testing to Arizona is about more than jobs and investment.
"If you look back at Arizona's history with aerospace and defense industry, we have a legacy at stake here," Forese said.
Forese told 9 On Your Side over the phone, with its climate and desert terrain similar to the Middle East, Arizona is as competitive as any state vying to become one of the Federal Aviation Administration's approved drone testing sites.
"I believe we are probably either one or two," Forese said.
Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally told 9 On Your Side drone research doesn't just benefit the military. She said it has many other applications.
"Monitoring pipelines or forest fires," McSally said, "or things that you know we can't necessarily get to with boots on the ground."
McSally said she is confident the federal government will pick Arizona.
"I mean it is really for us to lose," she said.
Regardless of where Arizona ranks on the FAA's radar, the federal government is putting its decision on hold. Now with the sequester taking effect, Forese says that could further postpone or possibly prevent this project from ever taking flight.
"But that being said, it is my understanding that this technology by the Air Force is considered to be the future and there are cost savings involved," Forese said.
The sequester isn't the only issue grounding this project for now. The FAA cites privacy as one reason for its delay and Forese told 9 On Your Side most of the opposition calls he receives are because of privacy concerns.
The Arizona House of Representatives passed Forese's resolution in favor of the drone testing coming to Arizona. Forese has also proposed legislation that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using drones to collect information, except in cases of reasonable suspicion.
"We just want to make sure that the team of us working on this are giving the issue due diligence, but at the same time, I think economic development and privacy are not mutually exclusive," Forese said.