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FCW : July 15, 2014
July 15, 2014 FCW.COM 9 additional companies will be eligible for SBA loans and other assistance, based on the agency's latest rule revisions 8,400 At least one federal agency that relies on its own unmanned aircraft systems for geo-mapping and other complex tasks is monitoring the development of commercial UAS services in the hope they might save the agency money and increase operational capacity. Bruce Quirk, UAS liaison at the U.S. Geological Survey, said the agency is watching commercial aerial monitor- ing services closely after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a cer- ti cate of waiver or authori- zation in June for BP to y a hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle in Alaska. The overland operational permit for the four-foot-long AeroVi- ronment Puma AE, which has a nine-foot wingspan, was the rst issued by the FAA, and it opens the door a bit further to commercial operation of unmanned systems over the United States. However, BP did not buy the complete unmanned sys- tem but instead contracted for high-resolution aerial survey services from AeroVironment in a kind of drone-as-a-service arrange- ment. AeroVironment Vice President Steve Gitlin said the services include extremely sensitive measurements and detailed data on roads and other infrastructure in BP s environmentally sensitive Prudhoe Bay oil eld. That sort of detailed surveying is right up USGS alley. "When the FAA nally opens up the National Airspace System for commercial operations, the USGS will investigate service contracts with the commercial sec- tor that would provide the datasets we need to meet our mission," Quirk told FCW. "We already have a contract vehicle in place called the Geospatial Product and Service Contracts that we could use to secure these services." For now, the agency is waiting for the FAA to make more progress in opening commercial airspace. "It might happen in stages," Quirk said. "For example, they might open up commercial operations in G airspace rst." Class G includes all airspace below ight level 600 not otherwise classi ed as controlled. It s one of seven airspace classi cations in the U.S. "It will also depend on how and when the FAA certi es commercial operators," he added. "I think that the FAA will require the commercial vendors to have both certi ed aircraft and pilots. The Australians have a list of certi ed UAS operators, and I don t know if the FAA will do some- thing similar or how they will do the certi cation." BP s Puma is equipped to sup- ply extremely detailed mapping using either custom integrated Light Detection and Ranging or standard electro-optical and infrared sensors. The company said the sensors pro- duce imagery and data for process- ing into 3-D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines, and other actionable information, including pre- cision volumetric measurement and topographic analysis of gravel pits at Prudhoe Bay s North Slope eld. One of the UAS jobs is to monitor the condition of 20 miles of road in support of BP s massive three-and- a-half-million-pound mobile drilling rig. The heavy equipment requires extremely smooth roads so it is not damaged when it moves from site to site. The UAS could measure up to the centimeter how much gravel might be needed to ll each pothole along the vehicle s route, Gitlin said. Federal agencies have been turning to unmanned aircraft for jobs as varied as disaster recovery and forest monitor- ing. Traditionally, they have used repurposed Defense Department vehicles that have seen duty in Iraq and Afghani- stan. The systems require maintenance and sometimes upgrades to t another agen- cy s applications. They can also lack some of the more sophisticated capabilities of newer systems. Emerging, next-generation UAS services could offer less expensive and more mission- speci c options for agencies that don t want to buy their own systems, Gitlin said. Customs and Border Protection, for instance, has a eet of large Pred- ator-class aerial vehicles to perform high-level monitoring of U.S. borders. However, a small aerial vehicle and monitoring system like the Puma could offer individual border agents a localized tool to watch speci c areas. In 2012, Congress told the FAA to develop a plan to safely integrate drones into civil airspace by Septem- ber 2015. The FAA has been issuing limited permits and is working to pro- pose regulations this year for smaller unmanned vehicles that weigh less than 55 pounds. --- Mark Rockwell Federal agency eyes commercial UAS apps The U.S. Geological Survey is watching BP's use of the AeroVironment Puma AE drone (shown above) as a possible model for the agency's geo-mapping efforts. AP IMAGES
June 15, 2014
July 30, 2014