BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Half of the 1260 acres at the airport at Kellogg Field are currently unused, said Larry Bowron, aviation director with the City of Battle Creek.
He believes years ago city officials once thought they were going to build a commercial airport there. However that never happened.
Now, today’s city officials are thinking of tapping into the unmanned aerial system industry by creating an airport specific for drones.
“We thought ‘well if Orville and Wilbur Wright only had one airport, where could they have gone?’” Bowron said Thursday. “In order for this to grow they need to have additional airports similar to what they’ve done in Grand Sky and all throughout the country.”
He said Grand Sky, which is based in North Dakota, is the country’s "first fully dedicated UAS business park." It’s who they’re trying to emulate.
Joe Sobieralski of Battle Creek Unlimited, an organization dedicated to bringing business and revenue into the area, said two years ago the Michigan Economic Development Corporation awarded them a $150,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study to see if they could actually build a drone airport at Kellogg.
They hired Grand Sky as consultants and learned that they do have the infrastructure for it, he said.
“Some of the feasibility (study) identifies a few sectors that we should work on and that’s large UAS,” Sobriealski said Thursday. “So not going to Walmart and buying the drone off the shelf. Not that kind of stuff.”
Bowron added that one aspect of the industry that they’d like to lure to Battle Creek is the urban air mobility sector, which focuses on using drones to transport people a short distance to a nearby location.
He said Joby Aviation in California is looking into this and "their goal is to save a billion people an hour a day in their commute" in the most congested cities in America.
“So the Urban Air Mobility is another industry that’s really taking off,” Bowron said. “And so all of these industries need a place, almost like as proving ground. They need a place to develop the commercial aspect of the technology to do research and testing and we feel like we have everything that they want.”
Sobieralski believes Battle Creek is in the perfect location for all UAS companies because it’s nestled between Chicago and Detroit, he said.
And, more importantly, if companies choose Battle Creek they could help boost the local economy he said.
“If successful this could support several hundred jobs in Battle Creek,” Sobieralski said. “This is longterm. This is nothing that’s going to be here tomorrow. We’re positioning ourselves to take advantage of this.”