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Think drones are a passing fad? Reality check: there's now a drones-only airport

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:26 IST

It's become almost impossible to avoid drones - or at least conversation about them. From one-off experiment to full-scale invasion, their growth has been sharp, sudden and explosive.

There's hobbyist drones to government-operated death bringers and even 'selfie' drones. Which meant it was only a matter of time before drones got their own airport, and as it turns out, that time is now.

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The El Dorado Droneport

At a time when small towns face an increasing struggle to draw investment, Boulder City, Nevada, is relying on innovation to save the day.

Earlier, when solar power was just gaining popularity, it became home to one of the world's largest solar power plants, Nevada Solar One. Now the city, home to just over 15,000 residents, is staking a claim for a piece of the lucrative Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) pie: together with Aerodrome, Boulder City will develop the world's first commercial airport for drones.

The UAV market looks set to be a goldmine, and is expected to grow to $82 billion in the next ten years. For that kind of big bucks, it's only fitting that the first Droneport be situated in the Eldorado valley and be called the Eldorado Droneport.

It is the first of six Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved sites for training and certifying drone operators.

While the 50-acre site isn't fully developed yet, and will be completed only by 2018, it already operates on a 5-acre parcel of land. The full facility is also expected to meet its energy needs through solar power.

The need for a droneport

droneport - drone airport

The US is already home to 2,500 companies with FAA licensing to operate drones and this number is only increasing. The industries expected to implement commercial drone activities range from agriculture and real estate to e-commerce operations such as Amazon's drone delivery plans.

As these companies seek to expand their commercial drone programs, one report estimates over 100,000 high-paying jobs will be generated. And, as a press release from Aerodrome observed, these jobs will "require a whole new type of expertise in order to be executed safely."

It is this niche that Aerodrome hopes to fill. The droneport will offer not only drone pilot training and certification but also repair, maintenance and other such drone-related educational courses. What's more, it will not only train pilots for the commercial drone industry, but also offer lessons to recreational drone users.

Aerodrome already has drone-teaching centres in Detroit, Michigan and Henderson, Nevada. Eldorado, however, is a huge step ahead in the company's operations.

With drones already an inescapable part of the developing skyscape due to their low cost and high utility, this droneport is hardly likely to be an isolated one.

There are already plans afoot for a droneport in Rwanda, of all places. But look beyond its recreational aspects and this droneport makes serious sense: it is expected to be used for the collection and delivery of vital medical supplies in the impoverished African nation. When Rwanda can find a place and use for drones, can India (or the rest of the world) really be that far behind?

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First published: 20 January 2016, 1:28 IST
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.