2014-01-10 / Front Page

FAA declines to make Ventura County a drone zone

Gorell singles out Gov. Brown for lack of support
By Stephanie Guzman

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Dec. 30 that Ventura County was not selected to be one of six drone test sites in the U.S., a federal designation that could have brought thousands of high-paying aerospace and technology jobs into the area.

The news disappointed the Southern California Unmanned Systems Alliance, a multi-agency consortium of public and private entities which in May submitted the application for the county to be named a drone test site.

Ventura County’s proposal was one of 25 applications considered by the FAA last year. A second proposal from California was written by Inyokern Airport, a regional airport near Ridgecrest in neighboring Kern County.

Ventura County’s proposal highlighted the county’s educated workforce and geography.

The proposal also detailed how the county includes a military base and leading drone manufacturers—Lockheed Martin and AeroVironment.

The FAA didn’t select either of the proposals from California, choosing sites in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

The FAA said the sites were chosen because of their diverse climates, geography and location of infrastructure, among other considerations.

Assemblymember Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) said one reason Ventura County didn’t secure the test site designation is because Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t sign off on either of the two applications coming from California. The winning states selected for drone testing had support from their respective governors, he said.

Gorell said in a press release that the governor and other California representatives “dropped the ball” by not fighting for the project hard enough in Washington.

“For the better part of the 20th century, California was the global leader for aviation innovation and the home to the majority of the world’s aerospace jobs, so I’m very disappointed the county and the state were not selected for one of these important sites,” Gorell said.

Bill Buratto, CEO of the Ventura County Economic Development Association and a member of the alliance, said the FAA didn’t give the county a reason as to why the California proposals weren’t chosen as test sites.

“This was a national initiative that was high profile and incredibly competitive,” Buratto said.

He said the alliance sent two representatives to Washington, D.C., in October for a meeting with the FAA.

The representatives presented Ventura County’s proposal and heard other states’ plans. Buratto said the representatives learned the county’s proposal met all the requirements but was similar to other applications.

Buratto still believes Ventura County can attract drone companies because of the county’s large swaths of farmland and open airspace that can be used for testing.

“I still think that we have an opportunity to play a role in this new, emerging unmanned systems industry,” Buratto said. “We just have to step back and say, ‘In the absence of not having one of these test sites, what can we do?’”

After the FAA’s announcment, the American Civil Liberties Union reminded state and federal legislatures in a press release that laws need to be created to protect people from being subjected to a “surveillance society” once drone technology becomes commonplace.

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