Drones take off in Big Sky Country

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A handful of Montanans are awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve exemptions from rules that ban commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The entrepreneurs have in mind a range of promising business applications for this budding technology.

The approvals are slow to come, as FAA takes months to scrutinize every detail of applicants’ plans. With an eye to safety and security concerns from the public, the agency has approved only 224 applications in the U.S. thus far. Currently, there is a backlog of more than 1,200 applications.

However, those granted the exemptions are getting the jump on potential competitors. For example, Gallatin County Commissioner Steve White sees potential in his venture to use UAS to provide aerial photography to businesses and landowners with his Cinestar Hexicoptor. Bill Edmonson, who has flown surveillance drones in Afghanistan, intends to use technology such as infrared imaging to be useful to farmers to assess the needs of crops and croplands, among other services. Roger Meyer, a Lambert surveyor, has received FAA approval for his exemption, allowing him to fly a small fixed-wing Trimble UX5 to record a wide range of data collected in conjunction with his survey business.

People in the business avoid the term “drone,” preferring UAS or UAV. Drone conjures up images of weaponry and fears of excessive intrusion into privacy.

Some UAS enthusiasts have done their share of grumbling about the FAA’s restrictions, such as banning flights over public areas and near airports and limits to the size and range of the vehicles. Others see them as essential to maintaining public confidence as the technology continues to evolve.

Image courtesy of Trimble

Source: Billings Gazette


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Jeannie Oliver

Jeannie Oliver is a writer and PR practitioner with a long string of awards behind her name. With a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Jeannie has worked as a high school journalism teacher, an editor for the Appaloosa Journal, and a media spokesperson for...