I've followed the growing debate over domestic use of drones with great interest.
Given the fact Alpena County officials are working closely with consultants hoping to secure this summer an award at the Alpena County Regional Airport as one of six national locations for drone testing and training, the stories have more relevance.
For the record, much of the debate over domestic drone surveillance is just that - debate. While there are projections for much more use of drones domestically in the future, to date when you mention drones, you normally associate them from a military perspective.
That will change, however, and that is why it is exciting for us to think Alpena could be in on the ground floor of major growth potential. In an Associated Press story this week on domestic drone concerns, AP reported the drone market is expected to double over the next 10 years, from current worldwide expenditures of $6 billion annually to more than $11 billion. Also in that story, it reported that according to the Federal Aviation Administration, there could be 30,000 drones flying in the U.S. by 2020.
While some would argue the days of major industries moving into a region are few and far between, and for the most part they are right, a facility such as this could have much of the same impact. It certainly would not be unusual for a training center, for instance, to also attract spin-off industries and manufacturers that would also locate close to the center. Research and development centers usually employ higher paying scaled workers, another benefit of this kind of facility.
I believe privacy issues and concerns surrounding drone use are valid and need debated. We do not want to live in a world where a Big Brother government can determine what your favorite beverage of choice is as you sip it in the backyard.
However, drones flying over Alpena really will be no different than some of the sophisticated Air Guard planes and equipment with their infrared detection scanners and night vision technology that already look to Alpena as "home away from home."
I believe the benefits of the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, or a drone (UAS) Center of Excellence, far exceed any concerns some might have. There will be rules of operation, and I expect officials will follow them closely.
Drones have proven themselves valuable assets in understanding difficult to reach locations in the world. I expect from a domestic standpoint, there potential is almost limitless.
That's why I anxiously await word whether Alpena will become a significant part of future drone expansion and exploration.