Airport enters strategic partnership with Virginia-based Xelevate
Published 1:36 pm Friday, August 19, 2022
From Washington-Warren Airport Authority
Washington, N.C. — The Washington-Warren Airport Authority took a bold step in keeping North Carolina Forever First in Flight on Friday, August 12, entering a strategic partnership with the Virginia-based Xelevate Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence.
To commemorate the partnership and celebrate the 119th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight in North Carolina, Washington-Warren Airport and Xelevate will co-host the inaugural Washington-Warren (OCW) Air & Drone Show on December 17, 2022.
The event is open to the public and designed to demonstrate the safe integration of drone technology in this community. Visitors will gain a cultural introduction to drones through a technology showcase, live demonstrations, local business partnerships, and more. Educational programs will also highlight how unmanned technology will create purposeful and prosperous careers in Beaufort County.
The move paves the way for Washington-Warren Airport to become the first Drone-Smart airport on the East Coast, a commercial co-location facility for both airplanes and scalable, safe unmanned flight operations.
Becoming one of the first facilities of its kind in the U.S. will solve an industry capability gap and provide a proof-of-concept for safe integration into the national airspace.
“Located strategically at the confluence of the Tar and Pamlico rivers, near a series of government and commercial operating areas, Washington is ideally positioned for the fusion of air, land, and sea emerging technology,” Washington-Warren Airport Director Earl Malpass said. “Our Airport Authority chose to partner with Xelevate for its extensive industry expertise and access to personnel, military, national defense, academia, aviators, and maritime operators. Together, we can help define the next horizon in unmanned technology.”
As part of the agreement, the Airport and Xelevate announced plans to build the Southern-Atlantic Drone Workforce and Data Fusion Center, which will include indoor flight facilities with classroom environments that can be used for training, STEM education, job fairs, demonstrations, conferences, and symposiums.
“This partnership with Xelevate and Washington-Warren Airport will put our area at the tip of the spear of a very exciting and growing industry. Offering extensive opportunities for local businesses and restaurants. Our airport will be the model for the combination of general aviation and drones.” N.C. Representative Keith Kidwell said.
“Through collaborations with entities such as the IBX STEM and Beaufort County Community College and ECU,” the Representative said, “the Center is expected to spur regional job growth in the fields of aviation, maritime, hardware and software engineering, cybersecurity, information technology (I.T.), data integration, analysis and visualization, advanced manufacturing, sensor development and more. The 20 million dollars we are currently investing in the airport was not part of this plan but opened to door for the discussion. I want to thank Earl Malpass for his vision and drive. Washington North Carolina is poised to be the home of the future of flight.”
Lieutenant General (retired) Bob Ashley, a North Carolina native, and Xelevate board member, said “this is the kind of forward-looking partnership I’m excited to see NC take on as our state remains first in flight.”
The Center can also be used to bridge skill gaps between military and flight operations management, as well as train the region’s public safety officials on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) best practices.
The announcement comes on the heels of Washington earning $20 million in state funding for economic development and infrastructure improvements to modernize the Washington-Warren Airport, as well as establishing the Airport Authority in July 2022.
Unmanned technology is creating hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and will attract tens of billions of dollars of investment over the next decade. Beyond national defense and aviation, unmanned technology is already revolutionizing industries like real estate, public safety, asset inspection, and agriculture. As a cutting-edge market, it is being used in new and innovative ways including to plant trees, ferrying organs for transplant, search and rescue, forest firefighting, and land management.
“Drones are solving increasingly complex issues, completing activities at a fraction of the time and cost, saving human lives, and serving as a force multiplier for good,” Xelevate President and Co-Founder Marcy Eisenberg explained. “Because of the vision, location, opportunities, and forward-leaning aviation strategy supported by North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation and Washington-Warren Airport, we are excited to partner with the Washington-Warren Airport and North Carolina. There is an incredible opportunity for the Washington community, its organizations, entities wanting to use emerging technology, and people from all walks of life to participate and find purpose in this field.”
Other expected benefits of the partnership include:
- Hangar usage for drone operators to rent, test, train, demonstrate capabilities, innovate solutions, and collaborate across public and private partnerships;
- Identifying ways to support public safety and emergency management operations in Eastern NC;
- Onsite office and lab space equipped with Drone-Smart technology, including risk minimization, data streams, weather sensors, C-UAS sensors and radar for both manned and unmanned flight operations.
- Attracting HUBZone contracts for U.S. Government UAS and advanced air mobility services to Eastern NC.