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Nevada official makes case for drone testing in the state

Nevada official makes case for drone testing in the state

By Wade Tyler Millward / Las Vegas Review-Journal

April 12, 2018 – 7:09 pm

The man in charge of Nevada’s drone test site gave a presentation at a trade show Thursday that was equal parts sales pitch and “scared straight” program.

At some points, Chris Walach praised his locations’ amenities to the attendees from out of state.

Other times, he warned of the danger drones pose when handled by pilots who don’t know the rules or ignore them.

“We need to be part of a movement,” he told a crowd of about 20.

Walach presented at Sands Expo Center as part of ISC West, the largest security industry trade show in the country.

The trade show began Tuesday and runs through Friday. About 30,000 people attended.

Pitching Nevada

Drones continue to grow in use from entertainment and business to government and law enforcement.

By 2022, the U.S could be home to about 452,000 drones, about four times the number in 2017, according to FAA numbers.

Walach has advocated for Nevada as a premier destination for drones, helping the state compete for a spot in a federal program to speed innovation in the industry.

He told attendees about test sites in the state, including the open space and sparse population near Creech and Nellis air force bases.

His case for using Nevada test sites left a mark on attendee Pat Rudolph.

Rudolph, vice president of sales for Digital Global Systems, based in Beltsville, Maryland, said his company needs a place to test drones. He appreciated the amount of federally approved test site space in Nevada.

“We may very well look in Nevada,” he said.

Nevada is the only state authorized as a test site; the other test sites are state agencies, airports or universities.

‘Only takes one’

But to illustrate how bad actors still exist in the industry, Walach showed TV footage of two recent cases in Southern Nevada of drone owners who could have caused serious damage.

In February, a drone flew within feet of a Frontier passenger airliner near McCarran International Airport. In September, a woman said a drone fell and hit her at a Palms Place pool near the Strip.

“It shows a total lack of training and a total lack of experience,” Walach said.

Unless the government gets ahead of irresponsible drone pilots, a disaster could chill the entire industry, he said.

“It only takes one major airline accident,” he said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates the Sands Expo Center.

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at wmillward@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.