A recent study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranked all 50 U.S. states on preparedness for the drone industry. Based on their findings, Oklahoma is ranked the third most drone-friendly state in the country, following North Dakota (1) and Arkansas (2).
“In the emerging unmanned industry, our unique mix of terrain and testing capacity make Oklahoma perfect for UAS/UAV research and development,” said Geoff Camp, State Director of Aerospace and Defense, Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “For years we have led the nation in UAS education and are seeing increased UAS activity in our state through entities such as the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at Oklahoma State University and the Choctaw Nation Emerging Aviation Technology Test Center.”
The study sites the following factors helping the state score:
- Airspace Lease Law: Oklahoma law allows airspace leasing above local roads, state roads, and state property. This law allows state authorities to create drone highways above state and local roadways.
- Law Vesting Air Rights with Landowners: Oklahoma law expressly provides air rights to landowners, which reduces litigation risk for drone operators because landowners know the extent of their property rights. Additionally, Oklahoma law also affirms the existence of “titles, estates, rights, and interests” in airspace and treats airspace as real property.
- Drone Task Force or Program Office: In May 2020, a state law created a drone program office—the Oklahoma Advanced Mobility Pilot Program—within the Oklahoma DOT. Among other things, the program creates a 9-member advisory council that will make recommendations to the state transportation department about drone and electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft.
Texas-based Company Operating Unmanned Division in Oklahoma
Berry Aviation, a Texas-based company, opened its unmanned division in Stillwater, Okla., in 2020. The company currently employs about half-a-dozen at the Stillwater location with plans to hire more in spring 2021. Berry Aviation has noticed a renewed effort to connect education with the larger aerospace sector in the state, giving companies better access to talent and expanding research and development opportunities.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on right now. I think the biggest thing for us is we’re hiring engineers, mostly out of OSU, but not exclusively,” Ambrose said. “We’ve got a nice partnership with the universities, both OU and OSU.”
When it comes to education surrounding unmanned systems in the state, the state’s 3 research universities, Oklahoma State University (OSU), the University of Tulsa (TU) and the University of Oklahoma (OU), continue to set themselves apart nationally through degree programs, facilities, research, grants and more, with emphasis on environmental sensing, defense and weather prediction. In fact, the nation’s first graduate (MS and PhD) degree programs in unmanned aerial systems engineering at a research university were established at OSU.
And the state continues to see contract awards in the field of UAS. Between 2014 and 2019, $44 million in contracts were awarded to Oklahoma companies and institutions in support of unmanned aerial systems from sponsors that include the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and numerous private companies. Find out more about Oklahoma’s aerospace and UAS industries here.