A group based in Alpena is competing for a chance to test unmanned aircraft. It is still not legal for most private groups to fly drones, so the group is competing against 24 other applicants nationwide to be one of six federal test sites, the first of their kind.
The designation would allow the statewide cluster of experts known as the Michigan Advanced Aerial System Consortium to fly drones, even for commercial interests.
“Michigan has a number of things that other states have a hard time offering, or other states just can’t offer,” says Aaron Cook, a spokesman for the consortium. He says they have a pretty good chance of being selected, in part because of the fresh water in the marine environment of the Great Lakes.
The federal government is looking to test drones under a variety of circumstances – from flying over water, to sharing airspace with traditional aircraft.
Cook says northern Michigan has other advantages: a rural environment and four different seasons, for example. He says it will also be an advantage that schools such as Northwestern Michigan College already fly drones in Michigan.
The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce the six sites this December.