Regents Approve Center for Development, Research and Testing of Unmanned Aircraft in Corpus Christi

The Texas A&M System Board of Regents has approved the establishment of the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence and Innovation (LSUASC) as a joint Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) center.

The LSUASC will function in the general areas of research, development, testing and training to support safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace and would be headquartered in Corpus Christi.

“This approval by the Board of Regents strengthens the position of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in becoming one of six federal unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites,” said Dr. Flavius Killebrew, President/CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “With our research and development capabilities, we are poised to become a leader in what promises to be the future of aviation.”

A&M-Corpus Christi and TEES have collaborated with private-sector partner Camber Corporation to form a statewide team of research institutions and private-sector companies to produce a competitive proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that Texas be designated as a UAS test site. The statewide proposal led by A&M-Corpus Christi is supported by the governor’s office.

The state of Texas has a big stake in what happens with the FAA test site designation. The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) published an economic impact study in March projecting, once airspace is opened to UAVs, the economic impact on the state of Texas alone would be around $8 billion over the next 10 years.

Locally, getting the FAA approval could mean nearly $50 million in infrastructure development for the Coastal Bend area. That funding is expected to generate more than 1,200 local jobs with an overall estimated economic impact of $260 million.

“Texas’ unique geographic location leverages A&M-Corpus Christi and TEES into a diverse range of research and development fields,” said Dr. Luis Cifuentes, Vice President of Research, Commercialization and Outreach. “This includes everything from homeland security and range management to marine monitoring, especially with regard to oil spills.”

A&M-Corpus Christi has an established UAS program, including extensive airspace authorized by the FAA for UAS operations. The University has established a UAS Command and Control Center at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center that will manage the 11 Texas test ranges. University leaders say that even if the University isn’t picked as an official FAA test site, research and development of UAS will continue in Corpus Christi.

“We still have airspace that everyone else wants, and we will partner with anybody who wants to test in it,” said Cifuentes. “I see this type of innovative research as the ‘new age’ for Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.”