A look at the world’s first drone airport

Generations ago, the desert and painted mountains of Nevada were home to cattle drives and Native Americans. In the 21st century, drones are taking over not just the sky, but the sands as well.

The Eldorado Droneport in Boulder City, Nevada is the world’s first airport for drones. It sits in the valley some 6,000 feet below restricted airspace. It recently opened and is now offering a place for hobbyists and professionals to race, fly and train their personal unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as quadcopters or drones.

"This is truly an airport designed where unmanned aircraft is the primary customer, and then manned aircraft for something special," explains Jonathan Daniels, the GM of the Aerodrome.

The airport currently includes a 500-foot runway, a terminal tent, and a hanger where drones can be flown and tested inside a net.

"This is Phase 1," said Daniels as we walked across the 50 square miles of open space. "Phase 1B is actually a 40,000 square foot terminal building that focuses on the crews and concessionaires and thing you normally see in an airport."

Drones only have a flight time of 20 to 30 minutes tops, so why is an airport necessary when these UAVs can not travel from one airport to the next? The answer is simply that they’ll be able to travel from airport to airport at some time in the future. The Eldorado Droneport is getting out in front of the need.

"We do expect, and I’ve talked to Amazon about this, that at some point their distribution centers will have a drone pad and that will have certain requirements and certain buildout restrictions that are standardized across every drone pad in the United States," said Daniels.

The FAA had never reviewed or even considered regulations regarding airports for UAVs but began looking at them after Aerodrome officials first approached the federal agency. Those regulations are now being formed for future planned sites.

"Every other aircraft we have a regulation somewhere, some federal law," explains Daniels. "We don’t have that for unmanned, so before the FAA can authorize a ‘yes, you’re an airport’, they have to figure that out so we’re working with them to try and help with that."

The second phase of the Eldorado Droneport, Daniels said, is a 1,000-foot runway and development of the other 50 acres for hangers, manufacturer facilities and training.