UAS

Government Use of Drones: It’s Not Just FAA and DOD

How drones are helping the Department of Interior save money and achieve more

By Dawn Stevenson

The Department of Defense (DOD) has been flying drones for years, but they’re certainly not the only part of the U.S. government to use them. Departments of Interior (DOI), Agriculture (particularly the Forest Service), and Commerce (the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration or NOAA) as well as the National Transportation Safety Board are achieving cost and time savings and expanding their work thanks to drones. Even FAA is exploring drone use at airports. Let’s focus on DOI—which, along with the U.S. Forest Service, is using drones for land management and emergency response missions.

DOI first started exploring drone technology in 2004 when it used a drone to get data during a Mount St. Helens volcanic event. The Department started to evaluate broad use of the technology and launched operational test missions in 2010. Today DOI is second only to DOT in scope of UAS activity, with 12,000 flights in 2017. Drones are used in several categories of missions, what they call the 4 S’s:

sensing (science),

safety (reducing risk to life, limb, or property),

service (delivering superior benefits), and

savings (missions involving drones require an average of 1/7 the time with 1/10 the resources).

Going forward, the Department wants to start using drones also for sustainment and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math and the arts). Missions include wildfire response, search and rescue, wildlife monitoring, hydrology, geological surveys, geophysical surveys, and monitoring and responding to volcanic activity. DOI made 707 flights responding to 71 fires in 2017. A huge benefit is being able to fly at night for fire response (they can only operate 8 hours/day with helicopters). A drone even guided trapped residents to safety as the Kilauea volcano erupted in spring 2018.

DOI issued its first UAS solicitation this May, for call-when-needed services. The selected companies are now the go-to roster from which DOI selects for specific drone needs. The Department tapped one of these selected companies for the first time in June for fire response. Under this contract and through partnership, the team is testing technologies such as optionally piloted helicopters that allow pilots to jump in helicopters to fly between missions so a UAS doesn’t have to get airspace authorization. Another area the team is looking to explore is data analysis.

Public outreach is central to all of DOI’s drone initiatives. Their missions have received zero public complaints, which Office of Aviation Services director Mark Bathrick attributes to an emphasis on FAA compliance, internal training, and outreach as part of every mission to show people the value of drone activities. The team also did public service announcements for drone pilots during fires with the message “If You Fly, We Can’t,” with some parallel messaging from FAA. Paired with a robust reporting process the department created, and with mapping of areas where pilots can’t fly, DOI measured a 32% decrease in drone incursions after that effort began. Evans’ work with FAA’s UAS team involves a lot of focus on outreach to both internal staff and external stakeholders, and we aren’t surprised DOI is seeing great payoffs from its focus on compliance and outreach.

DOI focuses a lot of energy on leveraging partners in the drone arena—collaborating as well as using resources and research. DOI has 21 federal and state partners currently, according to Mark Bathrick. They aim to learn from and build on successful programs, such as DOD, FAA, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and FAA’s ASSURE Center of Excellence. To contribute to these partnerships, DOI created a master requirements spec of minimum drone capabilities with input from 400 people that they share with partners they mentor, because many don’t get the right equipment for their needs. DOI actually flew used drones from 2009-2015 handed to them by partner agencies and learned what they really needed—effectively free research to inform their ultimate solicitation for drones in 2016.

Collaboration makes sense, especially when U.S. Forest Service uses drones for disaster recovery and mitigation (including fire management and burned area emergency response after a fire); conservation planning and practice certification; forest, watershed, soil, and air management; and improved wildlife habitat management, all of which have some overlap with DOI. And everyone needs to work with FAA (just take a look at the list of current agreements between FAA and DOI). DOI learned early on that there were many lessons already learned that they could benefit from, and they’re now sharing their lessons with federal, state, and local entities through mentorships. Evans applauds the smart and efficient approach DOI’s UAS program has taken and is exploring opportunities to support such UAS programs as they launch and grow.

Evans’ PropelUAS division can help you launch a successful UAS program. Click here to connect to us to learn how.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It Had Better Not Be Your Drone.

By Dawn Stevenson

How important is it really to follow the rules when you fly your drone? Neither FAA nor police have fined many drone pilots to date, and you’re just having fun anyway, right? In fact, it’s very important. A drone of any size has the potential to cause harm to life, limb or property, and it’s your responsibility when you enter the national airspace to fly safely. FAA is issuing stern warnings in recent weeks about big civil fines they can levy and is collaborating more closely with local police units to crack down on criminal violations—so you’re also less likely to “get away” with breaking rules.

Will I really get in trouble?

FAA and law enforcement focus mostly on larger UAS flying under Part 107. After the small UAS rule (Part 107) took effect, FAA prioritized educating remote pilots about the rules, giving remote pilots a sort of grace period. Yet FAA can take civil action anytime. There’s growing pressure on FAA lately to enforce the rules, now that Part 107 has been in place two years and proliferation of drone activity is leading to some frightening incidents. Local police have not cited or fined large numbers of remote pilots to date for criminal offenses. Yet you CAN get fined thousands of dollars—and the amount isn’t standardized.

Hobbyists, especially those flying tiny drones, are considered the responsibility of hobbyist organizations since they are supposed to operate under Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) or another organization’s guidelines, under Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act and Part 101 of the small UAS rule. Yet few pilots actually qualify as hobbyists—it’s a surprisingly narrow category. There is growing concern about hobbyists, though, since many are not members or even aware of these rules, so keep alert for possible changes to jurisdiction or changes to Section 336.

Registration is required for ALL drone pilots, and failure to comply can mean steep fines. It only costs $5—this is a no-brainer.

Who would come after me?

Generally local police. FAA issued a revised version of its “Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations” on August 14, which outlines its coordination with law enforcement to take legal action against UAS operators for unauthorized or unsafe operations. In most cases, law enforcement is in a better position to “deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions.” FAA is spending more time recently on developing partnerships with law enforcement and guiding them on drone laws. And remember, there are state and local laws in addition to federal laws, so learn the specific requirements where you want to fly.

FAA is responsible for the safety of the U.S. airspace and focuses on education, but the Agency can take civil administrative enforcement action if a pilot endangers life or property—what’s called reckless operations. FAA just clarified in a revision to compliance and enforcement order 2150.3B change 13 August 27 that fines should be in the $15,000-20,000 range per violation. Does that get your attention? One Chicago company was fined $200,000 for a series of unauthorized flights, with an original proposed fine of $1.9 million (though this was before Part 107)…it adds up quickly.

Think safety

We hope likely punishment isn’t your only motivation to follow regulations and fly safely. Our national airspace system (NAS) is the safest in the world. When you fly a drone, you enter that airspace, and that comes with responsibility. Recently drones have lacerated a toddler’s face, injured a man on his wedding day (the photographer’s drone!), sliced a woman’s eye during a Las Vegas show, and crashed into the Seattle Space Needle. Much worse, a collision with a helicopter or other manned aircraft—or even near-miss, if the pilot takes evasive action—could cause the aircraft to crash and risk the lives of pilots, passengers, and people on the ground. We hope you want to avoid damage to life or property at all costs.

The stakes (and consequences) are particularly high where drones could interfere with emergency response, such as during wildfires or hurricanes. FAA announced in the Order change mentioned above that it will automatically refer cases of drone interference with first responders for enforcement. FAA puts out press releases ahead of nearly every natural disaster warning drone pilots about such risks for interfering with emergency response (here is the one for Hurricane Florence).

How do I fly safely?

  • Know the regulations: review all guidance at faa.gov/uas, dial into webinars.
  • Get training—especially if you’ll be flying under Part 107.
  • You need to pass the remote pilot test, which takes education. That’s the beginning: then you have to fly This requires practice, ideally with someone who knows a lot. Be careful about where your money goes: a cheap training isn’t likely to teach you how to fly safely in all cases, i.e. to protect yourself and others.

Evans’ PropelUAS division can help you launch a safe and legal drone program and fly safely. Click here to connect to us to learn how.

Emergency Medical Care Takes to New Heights with PropelUAS

Drone solutions firm PropelUAS partners with MedEx and Lockheed Martin to integrate an emergency response drone with an ambulance for high-tech, efficient care.

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – February 6, 2018PropelUAS, a division of Evans Incorporated, announces today that it is partnering with Medical Express Ambulance Service (MedEx) in the unveiling of a high-tech “Concept Ambulance” that integrates Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or “drones,” into its collection of life saving technologies. The concept vehicle will be displayed at the upcoming 2018 Chicago Auto Show, this February.
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Evans Incorporated to Share Key Insights, Aviation Expertise at ATCA’s 62nd Annual Conference and Expo

The award-winning Human-Centered Solutions consulting firm’s Aviation experts to form critical part of the dialogue at the premier forum for aviation professionals, running from October 15-18, 2017

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – October 11, 2017Evans Incorporated announces today that several of its leading Aviation experts are set to speak at the upcoming 62nd Annual Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) Conference and Expo, running from October 15-18, 2017 at the Gaylord National Resort, National Harbor, Maryland. As the premier forum for aviation professionals, ATCA’s annual events draw key corporate and government decision makers from across the industry, along with more than 3,000 attendees from more than 40 countries and over 100 exhibiting companies, government agencies, and NGOs.
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Evans Incorporated Analyst Interviewed by Farm Futures Magazine

Chad Tyson, senior analyst at Evans Incorporated, discusses the impact of new FAA rules with Farm Futures Magazine.

Aerial View: Farm drones cleared to fly

Will new FAA rules make unmanned aerial systems the next must-have farm tool?
Bob Burgdorfer | Sep 21, 2017

Precision agriculture is rapidly evolving, with new sensors, devices and software that help farmers do their jobs better.

Unmanned aerial systems (aka drones) can play a role in that evolution now that the Federal Aviation Administration has provided the means to legally fly them to deliver chemicals, collect crop data and inspect fields.
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Evans Incorporated Takes Organizations to New Heights with Launch of PropelUAS

The award-winning Human-Centered Solutions consulting firm’s innovative new division forges the future of UAS program implementation, launches at ALEA 2017

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – July 26, 2017Evans Incorporated (Evans) announces today that it has launched a new division, PropelUAS, which is changing the game and forging the future of UAS Program implementation process and technology. PropelUAS’ team of unmanned systems, air traffic control, aviation training, human factors, airports, and aviation strategy experts form an innovative, full-spectrum experience, from ‘Idea’ to ‘Operations’ (IDEA-OPS™). This gives organizations the capability to navigate often complex and overwhelming regulatory channels with a ‘what’s allowed where, what’s not, and where exceptions can be made,’ to its ‘been there, done that’ approach. Continue reading

Evans Incorporated Expands Aviation Footprint with Additional Key Contract Win

The award-winning Human-Centered Solutions consulting firm awarded a contract for Capital Investment Analysis Support (CIAS) with the U.S. DOT and the Volpe Center

FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA – July 20, 2017Evans Incorporated (Evans) announces today that it has been awarded a contract for Capital Investment Analysis Support (CIAS) services to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), located in Cambridge, MA. This news follows Evans’ recent $42 million contract award also with the Volpe Center, the largest in its history, and continues to underscore Evans’ demonstrated value proposition in the Aviation space, as well as its position as a strategic leader in leveraging emerging technology to drive top value, ROI, and success across the board. Continue reading

UAS Usage in Western Wildfire Firefighting Operations

As we find ourselves nearing the peak summertime travel season, May 4th is proclaimed International Firefighters’ Day (IFFD). It was instituted after a proposal was sent out across the world on January 4, 1999 due to the deaths of five firefighters in tragic circumstances in a wildfire at Linton in Victoria, Australia.
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