As the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range is nearing the end of its first phase of construction, local officials are saying they may be close to phasing out local funding for the project.
According to economic development director Steve Chrisman, the UAS launch pads that make up the first phase of the project could be completed in two weeks.
The 15 pads, which the city spent $120,000 to build, will serve an essential function for the future drone hub.
Chrisman said the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport will rent out those 50x50 foot spaces to provide electricity, high-speed Internet and water for the command center customers use to fly unmanned aerial vehicles.
Originally conceived as a four phase project, the final plans for the range continue to change.
With the first phase almost complete, Chrisman said the range could skip to its final phase of developing the northernmost area of the airport if UAS testing proves successful.
Chrisman wants to pursue federal funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which would provide the money for a UAV industrial park to house drone companies interested in moving to Pendleton.
Phase two of the project, an area for hangars on the south side of the airport, could see funding from the customers themselves if the demand was great enough for a secure place to store their equipment.
Chrisman’s attempts to stem local funding comes at a time when opinions on the airport are mixed.
While the airport’s recent open house was considered successful, with range manager John Stevens estimating a total of 300 people in attendance, the city decided to reduce the amount of money dedicated toward the airport in a bond issue proposal because a phone poll showed strong opposition to it.
Chrisman said the poll was conducted before the range was selected as a test site by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the $120,000 the city spent on the launch pads was necessary for the project’s survival.
“I don’t know any scenario where you announce something and people come with wheelbarrows of money,” he said.
Despite potential customers “chomping at the bit” to come to the range, testing won’t occur until the FAA gives final approval, which is a date that hasn’t been announced.