The director of the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field said he plans to bring Battle Creek into the next generation of unmanned aviation.
“It’s the future,” Larry Bowron said of the airport’s plans. “It’s the things that we dreamt of when we looked at the back of Popular Mechanics and saw the jet packs.”
Bowron, as the airport’s director, is working with Battle Creek Unlimited, the city’s nonprofit economic development agency, to develop a drone park they will use to attract manufacturers of large unmanned aerial vehicles, much like what’s used in the military.
The difference, Bowron said, is the unmanned aerial system industry is quickly developing unmanned aircraft for use outside of the military.
Bowron said he sees a massive parcel on airport grounds as the perfect location to attract the drone industry. He said the airport and Battle Creek Unlimited are in the beginning stages of planning the project. Located on airport grounds, the drone park would serve as an industrial campus where manufacturers would set up shop for research, development and manufacturing unmanned aircraft.
“They’re all interested in UAS essentially for package delivery,” said Joe Sobieralski, president and chief executive officer of Battle Creek Unlimited.
Sobieralski said a feasibility study for the project revealed that Battle Creek is primed for this type of industry because of the space available on the airport grounds; the airspace around the airport, which is not as active as other airports; and the established manufacturing footprint in the area.
“It’s the things that we dreamt of when we looked at the back of Popular Mechanics and saw the jet packs.” said Larry Bowron, director of the Battle Creek Executive Airport at Kellogg Field.
The airspace around the airport is important, Sobieralski said, because it would allow for the space necessary for companies to test the drones they develop and see how they interact with manned private and commercial aircraft.
Battle Creek Unlimited officials joined Bowron in visiting the only other drone park in the nation, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It’s called Grand Sky Drone Park and is the only industrial park solely dedicated to researching, developing, building and flying drones.
“The average job at the North Dakota facility at the operations are $70,000-a-year jobs or higher,” he said.
Bowron said this project is his baby. He said the city must take advantage of the assets it has to attract something so new and potentially revolutionary.
“Private industry is really pushing this, the public sector, airports. We need to catch up,” Bowron said. “The opportunity is there. We aim to capture it.”
Both men said as things stand now, building the drone park would cost upwards of $10 million.
The next steps are creating plans for how and where to build the drone park, and securing funding.