While the Nevada-based Aerodrome is set to become the world’s first drone port, a similar project in Spain may prove to be a first for Europe – a drone research facility recycled from a former Nazi air installation.
The Spanish Ministry of Defence announced last month that the Galicia regional government will partner with the agency to fund a $60 million drone port for commercial purposes.
The proposed drone facility site in northwestern Spain at Castro de Rei was used by the German Luftwaffe in 1943 due to its strategic coastline location.
The Rozas Aero Transport Research Center (CIAR) will focus on research and has already drawn bids for leases by several Spanish and international firms, including Boeing, Airbus, Thales Programas de Electrónica y Comunicaciones, Elbit Systems and Inaer Helicópteros.
According to ElPais.com, the Defence Ministry’s National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA) along with the Galicia regional government (“Xunta”) have already spent $11 million to retool the airfield and will spend around $22 million over the next five years to purchase equipment.
“These types of craft have enormous civilian capabilities and we want Galicia to play a role in this huge market that is just opening,” said Manuel Varela, the director of the Xunta’s Axencia Galega de Innovación (innovation agency).
El Pais notes that the regional government will pay “selected candidates to carry out their research and provide them with the necessary equipment [and] they will also guarantee them security and confidentiality to conduct their tests.” The regional government will then receive registered patents and use the technology at no cost.
“We are not interested in exclusivity. The Xunta is not a business, but what interests us is that they sell the research to as many people as they can,” Varela added.
Although some critics worry that the drone port will end up as a secret military research facility, the multi-agency agreement specifically states that “the equipment and research into project applications are to be used for civilian purposes.” Critics note however that several bidding firms, including Boeing, also hold defense contracts with the Spanish government.
“It could prove difficult to prevent the companies chosen to take part from using the results of their studies for eventual military purposes,” an official admitted in a media report.
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