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Editorial: Atterbury still has future in drones


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THE decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to exclude Camp Atterbury from a list of six sites that will be used to test unmanned aircraft (drones) obviously is a disappointment to local supporters of the effort.

Preliminary studies indicated that such a site at the military installation north of Columbus could have attracted as many as 1,000 new jobs and led to more than $200 million in investments from drone-related companies that were deemed likely to establish operations in the area.

However, it must be noted that nothing is being taken away from the base or the surrounding areas as the result of the decision, and it is likely that the assets that led supporters to apply for a training site designation are still in place and can continue to contribute to the economic development of Camp Atterbury and its neighbors.

Drone testing already takes place at the local camp for both military and commercial ventures, and base officials plan to maintain those operations and market its assets to potential users.

One factor in favor of increased use of Atterbury is that none of the six sites selected (in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and New York) is in the Midwest. That might make the base more attractive to companies in that geographic region who would prefer not to relocate.

One important factor in the hopes to gain more drone business is that Camp Atterbury has restricted air space, and its companion installation — Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Jennings County — has been specifically approved by the FAA for drone flights. That is an advantage for military units that use drones, especially since Muscatatuck offers a realistic training environment for urban situations. Drones are currently not allowed to fly around occupied areas.

While the local facilities retain many of the advantages that make them attractive to drone-related businesses and military units, there will still be a need for an aggressive marketing campaign to fully capitalize on their assets.

Fortunately, base officials and their command structure in the Indiana National Guard have already shown they are adept at such approaches. More than $500 million has been spent to date on upgrading the local facilities since Atterbury’s designation as a major training site following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Atterbury is well-known for the work that has already been accomplished. The key now is to make sure that reputation is maintained in the future.

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