Political Animal


March 27, 2013 12:06 PM The Race For Drone Dollars

By Ed Kilgore

Connoisseurs of state economic development strategies and their amoral (if not immoral) character will love this story from TPM’s Alicia Chang:

[T]he Federal Aviation Administration last month put out a call to test fly drones at half a dozen to-be-determined sites before they can share the same space as commercial jetliners, small aircraft and helicopters.
Fifty teams from 37 states answered, vying to win bragging rights as a hub for unmanned aerial vehicles.
The military has long flown drones overseas to support troops, spy on enemies and fire missiles. There’s a recent clamor to fly them domestically to track the health of crops, fight wildfires in remote terrain, conduct search and rescue after a disaster and perform other chores considered too “dirty, dull or dangerous” for pilots. The expanding use for drones comes amid concerns of a “Big Brother” society.
The untapped civilian market — estimated to be worth billions — has created a face-off, with states perfecting their pitch — ample restricted airspace, industry connections, academic partners — not unlike what you might read in a tourism brochure.

Now I understand that drones are not inherently evil, and that drone technology can have benign applications. But they are a bit controversial these days, to say the least. Yet that’s not inhibiting eager state development officials from turning on the welcome sign and competing to become Drone Research Central.

I’ve often thought many states would happily turn potential “investment sites” into Hell Itself if Satan was looking for a new headquarters location and had a big sack of infernal cash to offer. The habit of assessing investments in terms of true costs and benefits, or the quality of jobs created, occasionally takes root here and there, but usually expires during hard times. What those jobs mean in the eternal scheme of things rarely if ever registers at all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Ron Byers on March 27, 2013 12:19 PM:

    And your problem with community leaders trying to find good paying jobs for their communities is? Drones are simply unmanned aircraft flown by people on the ground. They have to be maintained by aircraft mechanics and electronic specialists. Are you opposed to civilian aircraft because F15s are used to kill people? If a town with a small airport wants to become a civilian drone test center, I say go for it.

  • c u n d gulag on March 27, 2013 12:23 PM:

    Jeez, you wonder, if government can't create any jobs, why states are even bothering to vie for the Federal government's drone program?


    Oh will, I'm sure that all of these state's are from the Socialist Elite Coastal Blue states, since our Real 'Murkan Repubicans Governors from the Heartland would know better - or, is that "'NO!' better?"

  • Al on March 27, 2013 12:25 PM:

    The FAA should allow American companies to do whatever it takes to keep America safe.

  • James on March 27, 2013 12:50 PM:

    In fact, Drones were developed, beginning in the 1950's at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. After two decades of development, testing and refinement of the technology has been done off the California Coast for three decades -- thirty years, specifically at the Pacific Missile Test Range at Point Mugu, CA. All these decades, the drone program has employed hundreds or thousands of engineers, technicians, ancillary staff both in the civil service and military contractors. And these were very, very good jobs, long term jobs that were an integral part of these communities. Never was there any pearl clutching or heavy breathing, it was national defense research and development and supported by both parties in a non-controversial way.

    So I don't get what the big deal is now.

  • Gandalf on March 27, 2013 1:06 PM:

    Does this open up the race for anti-drone personal defense dollars. Under the second amendment small surface to air missiles should be available to every red blooded american.