Small businesses, defense contracting and the intermingling role of local and federal government in both were discussed at length Wednesday during a gubernatorial candidate’s tour of a Manassas aeronautics contractor.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe toured Aurora Flight Sciences Wednesday morning to learn more about the small contractor and its role in Virginia and international commerce.
One of the most important things companies like Aurora can do is continue to grow, McAuliffe said.
As governor, he said his mission would be to convince such companies that Virginia is the place to expand.
Aurora has shops in others state such as Mississippi and West Virginia–it was lured to the latter state because of an incentive to do business there, Aurora CEO John S. Langford said.
“I’m selfish as governor; I want it all done here,” McAuliffe said.
Langford said Aurora’s business isn’t just within the U.S. but international.
“It’s a global competition, it’s not just state-to-state,” Langford said. “The government can play a critical role in that.”
The structuring and interpretation of U.S. exporting laws prevented the company from sealing a deal with the Swiss government, said Langford. Laws prevented Aurora from shipping an unarmed aircraft built for the Swiss out of the U.S.
No one from the U.S. would even answer a diplomatic letter from a Swiss ambassador, Langford said.
“Really—when was the last time the Swiss caused problems?” Langford said.
There are many people around the world who want their products, Langford said, but Aurora has to be “unleashed” so it can do business.
The governor should be viewed as a resource to get things done, McAliffie said.
Aurora officials also discussed the government’s role in the purchase of their products on the home front.
Langford and Aurora Chief Operating Officer Mark Cherry showed McAliffie the Aurora Skate, a mostly Styrofoam Unpiloted Aircraft System (UAS) about the size of model airplane that can be easily assembled and equipped with cameras and other sensitive equipment.
UAS like the Skate are the subject of debate in the U.S. because of privacy issues, Langford said.
In Canada, such devices are comparable to model airplanes and aren’t subject to the same restrictions.
Getting a regulated system that will allow UAS products to be used and not abused is at the heart of Aurora’s issues with the Federal Aviation Administration, Langford told McAuliffe.
Recently an Aurora customer took the Skate to Peru, flew it around at an altitude of around 14,000 feet and used it to map the ruins of an Incan town, Langford said. It was very useful and did the work much faster than a crew working on the ground, he added.
A device like the Skate, which costs anywhere to $3,000 to $30,000—depending on if a company elects to buy the whole system‑could be used by the media or state police to track suspects, Aurora officials said.
In addition to government regulations, Aurora officials said the government’s looming sequestration is also a concern.
If there is a pull back on funding then that is going to affect the supplying of UAS products, Cherry said.
But not knowing what will happen with government spending is another concern, he said.
“It’s the uncertainty that really gets us,” Cherry said.
But sequestration could also lead customers to chose smaller, cheaper companies like Aurora for their products, Landford said. With cutbacks looming, innovation becomes more important.
He just hopes the innovation isn't restrained because of the cuts, he added.