By Terri Jo Neff
A number of aerospace manufacturers now have a footprint in Arizona, including Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell Aerospace, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies. In fact, aerospace is one of the largest economic sectors in Arizona, and with more than 1,200 companies engaged in the market, the state ranks 5th in the country for aerospace-related employment.
But it is not just the big boys who find Arizona’s 65,298 square miles of rural airspace beneficial. Many small- and medium-sized designers, developers, and manufacturers have also flocked to Arizona to build or test their wares.
Earlier this week, the Arizona Technology Council hosted its annual Arizona Aerospace, Aviation, Defense, and Manufacturing (AADM) conference in Scottsdale. And of particular interest was unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which until a decade ago were considered in terms of military application.
In recent years, the UAS and UAV technologies have been embraced on a smaller scale by law enforcement, civil search and rescue, meteorology services, construction and engineering firms, farmers and ranchers, insurance company claim adjusters, even delivery companies.
And it is through the efforts of organizations such as the Arizona Aerospace Association and the Arizona Commerce Authority that the state continues to be a favored location for aerospace companies, large and small.
Arizona Aerospace promotes Arizona’s ideal meteorological conditions, protected airspace, favorable cost of doing business, and business-friendly regulatory environment. It also educates stakeholders as well as elected officials and their staff at all levels of government about the need for responsible industry-related legislation and public policy to facilitate a thriving aerospace industry in Arizona.
The group has a test site with hangar available for rent at the Benson Municipal Airport for use with test flights just a 30 minute drive from the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista and the Davis-Monthan U.S. Air Force base in Tucson.
On July 15, Aerospace Arizona staff attended the AADM event in Scottsdale, and next month will be in Dallas to promote Arizona at the InterDrone Conference & Exposition. Then in September, staff will be in Las Vegas for the Commercial UAV Expo Americas Showcase which brings together the world’s leading commercial UAS technology companies from airframes to sensors, software to services and more.
Arizona is also promoted to the military and civilian aerospace industry by the Arizona Commerce Authority, which established its AZSkyTech program in 2018 to help grow the state as “the premier place in the world to responsibly test, deploy and advance Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology and policy.”
That endeavor is supported by coursework and degree programs at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, as well Cochise Community College.
Meanwhile, Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista continues to be a leader in the Army’s testing of UAS technology, which is helped by its rural location which includes mountain range, desert land, and more than 960 square miles of restricted airspace. It is estimated that Fort Huachuca has trained thousands of military members and support personnel in the use and management of UAS technology over the last decade.