Vahana

Airbus’ Project Vahana sits in a hanger at the Pendleton Army Airfield during the AUVSI Cascade Chapter Fall Symposium in October.

PENDLETON — One of the Pendleton Unmanned Aerial Systems Range’s most prominent customers is bidding adieu to Eastern Oregon.

Steve Chrisman, Pendleton’s airport manager and economic development director, confirmed a Dec. 17 Northwest News Network report that Acubed, the Silicon Valley subsidiary of French aviation company Airbus, had wrapped up testing on its drone and was moving out of town.

Besides its name recognition, Airbus received a great deal of attention because of Project Vahana, its unmanned air taxi concept that the company said would change the way people traverse urban areas.

Acubed did not respond to an email requesting comment, but Zach Lovering, the company’s vice president of urban air mobility systems, wrote in a Dec. 16 blog post the group achieved everything it set out to do since it started testing the aircraft in January 2018.

Lovering told the Northwest News Network that Project Vahana created four to six full-time jobs, but Chrisman said none of the employees would be staying in Pendleton.

Chrisman said it wasn’t uncommon for aviation companies to leave their test sites if they can’t bring their concept to market, and in Airbus’ case, the company decided to forward the information on to other air-taxi projects being worked on in Europe and elsewhere.

The city of Pendleton is currently in the midst of building a multimillion-dollar industrial park to accommodate anticipated growth in the UAS industry. Although the test range has already created some full-time jobs, range officials have said that a production facility could further accelerate job growth.

Chrisman said turnover should be expected at the UAS range in the future, but one of those companies settling down to start a production facility was still expected.

“We’re going to see a lot of movement in the next decade or two,” he said.

And although Airbus is moving on, Chrisman said the city’s working relationship with the company was good and both sides could reconnect one day on a future project.

In his blog post, Lovering echoed Chrisman’s comments.

“While the end of flight testing means we’ll be leaving the Pendleton UAS Range by the end of this year, we know that we couldn’t have succeeded without the warm welcome we experienced from the Pendleton community,” he said. “The range’s capabilities make it a fantastic candidate for future use.”

Airbus leaves behind a 9,600-square-foot hangar that got quite a bit of fanfare when it opened.

Gov. Kate Brown traveled to Pendleton in 2015 to announce that Business Oregon was giving the city a $1.7 million financial package to build the hangar and some storage facilities.

When the city opened the facility in 2017 and introduced Airbus as the first tenant, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden presided over the grand opening.

With Airbus moving out, Chrisman said he’s already fielding interest from other drone companies and expects a new tenant by early next year.

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