Hernando County commissioners get a mulligan this week after their prior inexplicable failure to consider the merits and economic advantages of joining a federal research program on unmanned aircraft.
On Tuesday, commissioners shouldn't hesitate to endorse a resolution that would allow the county and its Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport to partner with the state, its major universities and NASA in seeking to participate in the national testing and development of drone aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration, under congressional mandate, is seeking six test sites to incorporate drone aircraft into civilian airspace by 2015.
Two weeks ago, commissioners punted their own opportunity for the county to apply for direct participation as a test site. But after public criticism of their short-sightedness and Chairman David Russell's unwillingness to even hold a legitimate public debate on the application, the commission gets a second chance. It is now presented with a new opportunity to join the statewide application, which could open the door for Hernando to serve as a test site if the FAA selects Florida as one of its successful applicants.
Clearly, the resolution does not guarantee success, but without it, Hernando County will not be a part of the Florida team nor share in the windfall if drone testing does come to the state. There is plenty of competition. Fifty teams from 37 states are seeking to be test sites and the accompanying opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the civilian market for unmanned aerial vehicles.
There are legitimate concerns about safety and privacy issues surrounding drones, but, as Hernando Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut correctly put it, "how can I evaluate the concerns if I can't even do the research and due diligence to address them?''
Joining the state application should allow that process to begin. Hernando commissioners shouldn't let this opportunity fly past the county a second time.