O'Malley, 2 GOP rivals back unmanned aircraft bid

Gov. Martin O'Malley has joined two frequent ideological sparring partners to support a collaboration of public universities from their three states to conduct testing of unmanned aircraft systems.

The Maryland Democrat signed a joint letter with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob  McDonnell, both Republicans, endorsing an agreement by the schools to become partners on the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System test site.


The University of Maryland System, Rutgers University and Virginia Tech have submitted a joint bid to operate one of six sites the FAA will choose to to test the use of unmanned aircraft -- often called drones -- in domestic airspace. Such aircraft are already in use under limited circumstances for such purposes as law enforcement, firefighting and disaster relief.

While on its face the three-way letter might seem unusual, it is not uncommon for governors of opposite parties to join together on projects of common interest.


O'Malley said in a news release oration has the potential to create 2,500 jobs in Maryland. He noted that Patuxent Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland is already a center of research on unmanned aircraft.

According to the administration, the UM system originally applied on behalf of its College Park, Baltimore County and Eastern Shore campuses. Meanwhile, New Jersey and Virginia submitted an application as a partnership. According to the governor's office, the three states later decided to merge their efforts into  a single Mid-Atlantic bid. The joint bid was submitted in May. The FAA is expected to decide among 50 applications by the end of the year.

From time to time, O'Malley has engaged in political jousting with both Republican signatories. In July, he criticized Christie -- like himself a possible contender for for his party's 2016 presidential nomination -- over the New Jersey governor's veto of a same-sex marriage bill. Earlier he took shots at Christie over a downgrade of New Jersey's bond rating. Christie dismissed O'Malley as "flippant."

O'Malley's  rivalry with McDonnell has faded this year since the Virginia governor found himself mired in a scandal over his acceptance of gifts from a wealthy businessman. Through much of 2012, however, the two squared off regularly as surrogates for their presidential candidates and heads of their parties' governors associations.