By Collin Gallant on November 9, 2016.
Six years after the skies over Foremost were pegged as a perfect venue to host drone and unmanned aircraft development, Ottawa has permanently designated the range for long-range testing.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau made the announcement late last week. Now officials with the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems are preparing to book wide-scale operations in 2017.
“This gives companies a sandbox to work in,” said Doug Hanna, chief technical officer with the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicles Systems.
“This is a location where it’s safe and accessible. We’re three hours from Calgary International Airport, so that gives access to any Canadian company that wants to come and fly.”
The space, spearheaded by the Village of Foremost, the CCUVS and long promoted by regional economic developers, has hosted one-off special permits that only allowed aircraft to travel in a line-of-sight radius.
However, the burgeoning sector is being touted as a solution for use in desolate areas on long range missions to monitor pipelines, evaluate crops and stands of timber, among other uses.
Now, developers and technology firms will be able to regularly book longer distance flights on the course, file operations plans and use those results to have their machines certified for wider use.
“This is something that’s only been done very rarely in Canada and only then in very remote locations,” said Hanna.
“Companies need a place to go and prove their capabilities, show that their systems work, and fly those systems safely.”
Regulations require that new aircraft testing generally take place away from human population for safety’s sake. That typically meant companies would have to use either the ocean or high arctic.
The deep southeast corner of the province features a relatively sparse population, low building heights and favourable weather patterns. Centred at Pakowki Lake, the range comprises 700 square nautical miles unaffected by commercial air routes.
The centre plans to have one company come in to use the space by early new year while it begins booking other companies for the 2017 spring summer and fall seasons.
Highway No. 3 study
A group advocating the twinning of Highway No. 3 has awarded a contract to update an economic impact study that local governments and business groups hope will speed up the approval of upgrades on the route.
The Highway Three Twinning Development Association has engaged University of Lethbridge professor Kien Tran to determine a cost benefit relationship to upgrades.
That study will compare to a similar study done in 2001. It will be paid for by a $10,000 grant announced by Transportation Minister Brian Mason last March.
The association consists of local governments and business groups along the road that stretches from Medicine Hat to the British Columbia boundary.
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