Northeast Ohio Flight Information Exchange (NEOFIX) Project Director Stuart Mendel and Manufacturing Works Project Management Liaison Howard Thompson both testified to the House Aviation and Aerospace Committee on November 14, 2023, in support of HB77 (Willis), which sets requirements and prohibitions on drone use. The two also discussed NEOFIX’s work to establish the infrastructure needed for future drone operations.
In HB77 proponent testimony, Mendel described how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted hundreds of new exemptions in 2016 so companies could operate drones for uses including insurance, construction, and agriculture. That has led to efforts to make drones a “full-fledged industry,” and sales of consumer drones to dealers surpassed $1.25 billion in 2020.
Mendel also said Goldman Sachs forecasts the total drone market size to be about $100 billion, supported by growing demand in commercial and government sectors. Ohio is “primed” to be in the lead cohort of early adopters of drone operations, he continued, and that group will be able to work with the FAA in developing policies and regulations for the entire US.
“HB77, if implemented effectively, can support the safe growth and development of this market in Ohio,” Mendel told the committee.
He also described NEOFIX’s operations in his testimony and further elaborated on that in a presentation to the committee after the HB77 hearing concluded. The organization provides free, easily accessible data on drone flights in Cuyahoga County and that is used by public safety organizations, he explained. It also functions as a “regional template adaptable to each of Ohio’s 88 counties” and helps protect critical infrastructure.
Regarding critical infrastructure, Mendel recommended HB77 be amended to include water, sewage or energy processing or distribution facilities, and any facility storing chemicals or fuel in an above-ground tank as critical facilities.
Mendel further explained in his presentation how NEOFIX involves public safety organizations, planning and zoning groups, airports, pilots and operators, industry service providers, and manufacturers. Some of the use cases for early adoption include delivering medicine and diagnostic tests and transporting freight across Lake Erie by drones. He also compared NEOFIX’s data to the use of charts in traditional aviation.
Challenges include stable funding sources, developing public policy at the local, state, and federal levels, determining a funding fee mechanism, finding additional use cases, and growing the industry.
Thompson’s testimony on HB77 reflected some of the remarks made by Mendel. He added his agency has developed a six-part “roadmap” regarding drones with Ohio at phase two, “Ecosystem Development.” The first phase was “AAM Readiness Development,” and the remaining four are in terms of initial, midterm, complex, and advanced operations.
He also told Hannah News the advanced operations stage may be reached within two years. That stage could include “air taxis.” Mendel further discussed with Hannah News how drone operations will increase over three to five years if Ohio continues its current pace of work.
During committee questions, Mendel said NEOFIX would benefit from $2 million annually in the next two to three years while it develops a user fee funding mechanism. State recognition would also help attract businesses to pay for the service, he added.
Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) asked whether identifying critical infrastructure could make those facilities more of a target. Mendel said that is a concern for local officials and a workaround is to indicate there is a “no-go area” without explaining it, which is an FAA practice already. He further described how unapproved drone flights would be identified and tracked.
Mendel also said the House Aviation and Aerospace Committee has an important role in these efforts to grow drone operations in the state. He additionally discussed with Chair Adam Holmes (R-Nashport) how NEOFIX supports drone flights at 400 feet and below. Holmes said that makes them the “vanguard.”
Vice Chair Bernard Willis (R-Springfield) asked about standing up similar organizations to NEOFIX in other areas of the state. Mendel recommended identifying use cases specific to those regions, such as defense and military applications around Dayton, and working with airports to determine local assets. The state’s role would be to set the standards for data governance, he added.
Holmes closed by saying the committee will hear from state experts on hypersonics on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
Mendel and Thompson’s HB77 testimony is available on the Hannah News bill page. The presentation on NEOFIX can be found at www.hannah.com>Important Documents & Notices>Library.
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Be sure to visit the BWU Technology Partnerships Initiative website to learn more about how our NEOFIX program drives economic growth, promotes policy and infrastructure to improve drone safety and efficiency in various industries, and ensures that drone technology is being used responsibly.