Kansas State University Salina says it has reached a national milestone in the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry: It is the first entity in the country to receive approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for statewide access of flight operations.
The university has received three Certificates of Authorization (COAs) that will allow the UAS program to conduct research anywhere in the state on public property or on private property with landowner permission.
The university will use the COAs primarily to conduct research on UAS operating requirements for remote sensing in agriculture and emergency response. The certificates are effective for two years.
The flight operations will involve a mix of fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAS, which are all components of K-State Salina's fleet of more than 20 aircraft. UAS students will be able to participate in multiple facets of the research missions, including integrating equipment on the unmanned aircraft and acting as part of the ground support crew, who analyze data from the flights.
K-State Salina says it is one of the first universities in the nation to offer a bachelor's degree in UAS, which started in 2011; since then, the program has nearly doubled its enrollment every year.
‘The nature of agriculture research is subjective to environmental conditions, and it's important that we are able to investigate the impact of drought, floods, insect infestation and other factors,’ says Kurt Carraway, K-State Salina's UAS flight operations manager. ‘Before this access, we would have to apply for a COA from the FAA for a specific area of Kansas and then wait at least 60 days for approval. In a two-month time period, valuable information could be lost.’
With more research opportunities, K-State Salina says, it will be able to offer additional application-based experiences to UAS students, as well as students majoring in engineering, engineering technology, agriculture and other areas. And, the university adds, with more flying time, the UAS program will contribute to the FAA's need for more data about integration of UAS into the nation's airspace.
The university’s COAs contain the following requirements for operators: all flights are limited to 700 feet above ground level; they must be conducted during the day and in visual line-of-sight; missions cannot operate over heavily trafficked roads or in an open-air assembly of people; and they must have ground or flight observers at all times.
They also require the pilot in command to have completed FAA private pilot ground instruction and passed the written examination within the preceding 24 calendar months. Additionally, the pilot in command must hold a private pilot certificate if flying an unmanned aircraft above 400 feet, and all pilots must hold a current second-class FAA medical certificate.
Before flying, K-State Salina must issue a notice to airmen at least 24 hours before the mission, and any UAS flight within five nautical miles of an airport requires the operator to have an FAA private pilot certificate.