For a local government rebranding itself as a player in the Tampa Bay metropolitan region, Hernando County can't shake its backwoods thinking when it comes to economic development.
Tuesday, the Hernando County Commission grounded any effort by its newly christened Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport to serve as a testing site for domestic drone aircraft. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported, 50 teams from 37 states are seeking to be one of the six Federal Aviation Authority test sites and the opportunity to get on the ground floor of the civilian market for unmanned aerial vehicles.
The FAA is under congressional directive to develop rules integrating drones into civilian airspace by 2015. Though there are legitimate concerns about safety and privacy issues, domestic drones are envisioned as components of search and rescue missions, fighting wildfires, crop spraying, weather observations and monitoring U.S. borders.
Among commission members, only Diane Rowden recognized the value of the Hernando Aviation Authority's application. But she was overruled by the ignorance, parochialism and conspiracy theories from other commissioners. In a county with a jobless rate near double digits and where commissioners routinely portray impact fees or other community investments as job-killing burdens on local employers, it is a missed opportunity.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson didn't even want to talk about it. Jim Adkins said he needed more information. Wayne Dukes, a retired government employee, chirped about public distrust of government. Chairman David Russell, an amateur pilot, suggested the heavily populated Spring Hill area would be at risk from crashing drones.
The lack of leadership is disappointing. Some estimates suggest tens of thousands of domestic drones will be airborne by the end of the decade. In all likelihood that would include the skies over the Tampa Bay area as well. Just don't expect the people testing and manufacturing the high-tech unmanned aircraft to be contributing to the Hernando County economy.