Change is in the Air

Draper Aden Associates has spent the last year integrating small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), navigating the FAA regulatory framework and assessing the accuracy of drone data collection. While traditional survey methods still play a major part of every project, the adoption of aerial imagery has made a profound effect on the firm’s overall abilities to provide efficient and timely delivery of information to customers. The utilization of aerial imagery on projects, including landfills, aggregate production facilities and site planning has led to a marked increase in overall field and office efficiency.

An important part of the process was the initial filing for a Section 333 exemption to conduct commercial sUAS flights. This required that DAA not only have a fully implemented safety and operations procedure, but also required a certificated Pilot to operate their aircraft.

“Getting a pilot’s license has always been a goal of mine,” stated Darren Goodbar, Director of Aerial Services. “Learning to fly here in Virginia allowed me to realize that dream. It also provided the necessary knowledge to implement aerial data collection as a part of Draper Aden Associates service portfolio.”

On August 29th, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented new rules for operating drones by commercial firms. Officially called, 14CFR Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, the new regulations allow companies, like Draper Aden Associates to expand their capabilities.

Darren explains, “PART 107, unlike the previous Section 333 Exemption process which required the operator of the drone to hold at least a Sport Pilot’s Certificate, provides a more focused and applicable knowledge test and certificating process.”

“That the FAA has moved as quickly as they did to make the Part 107 rules a reality lends credibility to the importance and possibilities of UAS for commercial use,” said Kris Caister, Western Regional Surveying Manager. “We have spent a significant amount of time and resources in building our Aerial Services program. Attention and adherence to Part 333 and Part 107 rules regarding safety and “flyable” air space as well as our ability to capture accurate, georeferenced data will differentiate us in this burgeoning professional service market”

Cheryl Stockton, Survey Project Manager in Charlottesville hopes that the new Remote Pilot Airman Certificate will allow field crews to add drones to their tool box.

“The survey crews are excited about becoming active in our aerial program,” Cheryl said. “Once they get certified, they can pilot the aircraft and capture aerial imagery while they are already on site performing traditional survey work. We anticipate that this cross training will lead to increased efficiency as well as providing us with an unprecedented level of information that is not picked up in traditional surveys”.

Darren will continue to fly in cases when there is a requirement for added safety or the location is within an area around an existing airport. “Although the majority of DAA’s customer projects are accessible under the rules in Part 107, the additional requirements for operating near airports, infrastructure, people and during nighttime hours will continue to necessitate a high degree of safety and awareness that only a licensed pilot will be able to satisfy.”

Drones are here to stay, and DAA anticipates scaling their use of this new technology across the area.