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Aerospace caucus makes drones in Hawaii a priority

By Timothy Hurley

LAST UPDATED: 5:50 p.m. HST, Feb 6, 2014

State lawmakers announced the formation of a caucus that aims to support the development of Hawaii's aerospace sector and foster the potential for a burgeoning drone industry.

In a news conference at the state Capito tpdaul, members of the Hawaii State Legislative Aerospace Caucus pledged their support for 12 bills that address a variety of aerospace-related issues, including concerns over unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

"We think we're on the brink of something big that will benefit Hawaii in the future," declared state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), one of four  co-chairs of the 16-member caucus, with Rep. Angus McKelvey (D, Lahaina-Kaanapali-Honokohau), Rep. Gene Ward (R, Kalama Valley-Queen's Gate-Hawaii Kai) and Sen. Glenn Wakai (D, Kalihi-Salt Lake-Aliamanu).

Hawaii in December was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as a test bed for drone flights as the agency seeks to create rules for a growing number of the flying robots entering the nation's airspace.

Ward said the industry's potential is unlimited, with drones capable of doing a wide variety of missions including agricultural work, infrastructure inspection, wildlife management, film production, weather forecasting, search and rescue and even tracking the movement of a shark near popular beaches.

The lawmakers said the state needs to seize the day and create a foundation for an industry that would add millions to the economy through greater unmanned vehicle research, testing and certification and jobs.

At the same time, they said, there's a need to establish clear policies safeguarding the public against intrusions on privacy.

"We want to go where no man has gone before, but just not in my backyard," McKelvey said.

Among the caucus measures introduced this session are bills that call for funds to staff and operate an unmanned aerial systems test site and to ban the use of drones except by law enforcement agencies for information-gathering. 

Other measures call for studies for a space exploration research and development park, a laser optical communications ground station and a flight training center and related programs at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Community College.

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