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Drones as job-killers?

With House and Senate backing a moratorium on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, it seems increasingly likely that drones will be grounded in the commonwealth for at least two years – allowing lawmakers more time to work on legislation that would regulate the use of such aircraft in the future.

The Russell County Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency in Virginia so far that has purchased drones. But supporters of the moratoriums believe that the technology will be more affordable and easily available in the very near future.

However, the Arlington-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), a non-profit organization devoted to advancing unmanned systems, fears that the grounding of drones will not only hinder their ability to assist police, firefighters and other first responders in keeping Virginia communities safe, but also jeopardize current and future manufacturing jobs in the commonwealth in the rapidly growing unmanned systems sector.

In a letter sent to Gov. Bob McDonnell today, AUVSI Chairman Peter Bale wrote that he is concerned about the impact of this legislation on Virginia’s economy. “A forthcoming study commissioned by my organization projects that in the first three years following the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, Virginia stands to gain 2,380 new jobs and more than $460 million in economic impact,” he wrote.

Bale also noted that Virginia is interested in joining Maryland and New Jersey in putting forth a joint-bid for one of six test sites designated by the Federal Aviation Administration for the development of drones.

“These test sites would most certainly be job creators and bring economic activity to the commonwealth.” Bale wrote that if the moratorium were to become law, the plan for a test site, and the economic benefit that would come with it, “will most certainly be in jeopardy.”

Bale asked McDonnell to “do everything you can to oppose this moratorium, which will hinder a remarkable technology and everyone who might one day be helped by it.”