At least two dozen companies, including some large engineering firms in Albuquerque, are now involved in developing UAS systems and components, said New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Association President Bill McMillan.
“We have many companies here that would like to see a lot more of those activities move to New Mexico,” McMillan said. “The association will be meeting this month with the Otero County Economic Development Council and representatives of Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range to talk about how we can grow and attract more companies specifically in the UAS arena.”
New Mexico’s attributes have attracted some startup companies focused exclusively on UAS development. Since 2010, two firms – Silent Falcon UAS Technologies and Titan Aerospace – have set up operations in Albuquerque and Moriarty, respectively.
Titan, which is developing a solar-powered aircraft to replace communications satellites, came for New Mexico’s airspace, weather and labor expertise, plus the lower cost of doing business here.
“A lot of this kind of activity has been traditionally based in California, but it’s very expensive there, and New Mexico is not,” said lead mechanical engineer Daniel Cornew. “That makes it more attractive for small startup companies like ours.”
Nevertheless, as more startups emerge and existing companies begin to mature from research and development into manufacturing, local entrepreneurs will need access to financial resources to compete with other states.
That’s the case with Silent Falcon, which is ready to set up an assembly facility to produce its newly designed solar-powered aircraft, but it may end up accepting funding from out-of-state investors who force it to leave New Mexico.
“I see a whole industry of small companies springing up to build autopilot systems, communications and other components that will go into unmanned aerial vehicles,” said John Brown, a long-time entrepreneur in New Mexico who is now president and CEO of Silent Falcon.
“I’d like to see New Mexico get behind building a small cluster of those types of technology companies. But we need to do more to bring financing to early stage startups in the state, otherwise we’ll miss the boat.”