The Houma-Terrebonne Airport may begin remote cargo operations via unmanned aircraft next year, and fully autonomous aircraft by 2025, The Houma Courier reports.
For a joint venture called the Gulf of Mexico UAS Center of Excellence, the airport’s commission has been working with a variety of public and private entities—including the parish, Nicholls State University, Fletcher Technical Community College, the University of North Dakota. Its partnerships also extend to private companies such as as Era Helicopters, Aurora Flight Research, 2SF and soon one of the area’s largest oil and gas companies.
The unmanned aircraft program is scheduled to begin remotely operating cargo operations by 2020, with fully autonomous aircraft coming to the region by 2025. Era Helicopters has already donated one aircraft that is expected to be the first fully automated aircraft to deliver cargo to the Gulf of Mexico.
Airport Commission Director Mert Pellegrin, a Houma native and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, tells the newspaper that the project is expected to be awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to jump start the program. The first phase of the project, which includes building a 40,000-square-foot hangar, is expected to cost about $2.3 million.
Once the system is fully in place, large unmanned fixed-wing aircraft will be able to go out for up to a week at a time, The Houma Courier reports.