Washington Gets FAA Approval to Monitor Wildfires with UAVs

Posted by Betsy Lillian on July 17, 2014 No Comments
Categories : Policy & Regulations

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says it has received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in monitoring wildfires.

The authorization stems from the unusually hot and dry weather that is increasing wildfire danger across the state, DNR explains. Earlier this year, the Washington state legislature granted authority to DNR to use UAVs for the specific purpose of wildland fire monitoring and suppression.

Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands, says a UAV “can help get real-time information to firefighters on the ground” to “provide a safer operating environment” for them.

DNR says it regularly uses airplanes and helicopters to monitor and control wildfires, but wind and smoke can often ground the aircraft. A UAV can fly in conditions where manned aircraft cannot and relay video information that helps fire-suppression efforts.

Any decision on whether to use a UAV will be made in real time and depend on emergency conditions around a particular wildfire, the department explains. If a UAV is warranted, the agency will use a ScanEagle, which is built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing. The aircraft is about four feet long, has a 10-foot wingspan, weighs about 40 pounds and is equipped with cameras.

Despite the statewide burn ban on DNR-protected lands, weather conditions indicate a tough fire season ahead, according to the department. “At a time when resources are stretched, using a UAV can save money and help us accomplish our mission,” Goldmark adds.

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