Florida county to battle mosquitoes through federal drone program

the idea’s been an uncharacteristically busy week for Eric Jackson, a public information officer at the Lee County Mosquito Control District in southwestern Florida.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday afternoon named Lee County’s mosquito control outfit one of only 10 state, local along with tribal government entities to be selected for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

which means Lee County’s mosquito control operations will be able to incorporate drone technology under more relaxed standards than they could otherwise be required to adhere to under current law.

the idea also means an unlikely spotlight has been shined on the county’s pest control efforts.

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“I’m hoping after today the idea’ll quiet down. We’re getting a lot of media requests, however the idea’s also I’m getting inundated with drone operators which want jobs,” Jackson says. “I’m thinking, ‘Man, This kind of truly made the idea around the country.'”

The FAA in a statement This kind of week indicated the idea had received 149 formal proposals by across the U.S. The pilot program is actually anticipated to run over the next two along having a half years, along with feedback by those selected will likely help the federal government decide whether to loosen restrictions on commercial along with governmental drone use inside the future.

Among the additional finalists, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has been granted broader drone approval to monitor crops along with livestock herds. Alaskan pipeline inspection efforts are likely to see greater unmanned aircraft use inside the months along with years ahead. however Lee County was the only finalist recognized which intends to use broader drone approval for pest control.

“We’ve been doing This kind of for 60 years with aircraft dealing with mosquito issues, so I’m thinking which might have played a part (in our selection),” Jackson says, describing the county’s mosquito populations as a potential public health problem. “Our district relies heavily on aerial operations.”

Lee County’s mosquito control efforts – which span an area which Jackson says includes “a lot of mangrove habitat” – already involve helicopters along with little aircraft which monitor along with in some cases treat areas with particularly high pest activity.

Jackson says his department has also partnered with the Lee County Hyacinth Control District inside the past, doing limited use of unmanned drones to “take images of aquatic bodies to see where there’s a lot of vegetation.”

“Because where you have vegetation crowding out water, sometimes mosquitoes can grow in those,” he says.

however with its brand new recognition by the FAA, the department hopes to make use of a much larger 1,500-pound drone in its monitoring along with pest treatment operations. Its status inside the program will allow drone operators to fly at night, beyond a visible line of sight along with directly over people, potentially at lower altitudes. All three of those stipulations could not be permitted under current law.

“We potentially could be using the idea more for surveillance along with in more isolated areas for treatment missions,” Jackson says. “We’re trying to be as innovative as we can along with as efficient as we can. along with if This kind of can be used safely, we’re open to anything.”

however details of how along with when an unmanned drone weighing more than an adult grizzly bear will be flying over Lee County are still up inside the air. Jackson notes the control district’s location inside the Sunshine State subjects the idea to particularly stringent public records laws. He says mosquito control officials will hold a special commissioners meeting later This kind of month to discuss how along with when they will take their next steps with the program.

however he says he along with his colleagues are honored along with excited to have been selected for such a competitive program – even if which means his phone continues to ring off the hook for the time being.

“truly, the whole point of This kind of program is actually to be able to expand beyond the current regulations to see how This kind of can be used,” he says. “We have pilots inside the air, along with as the airspace becomes more crowded along with people start flying above 400 feet along with out of line of sight, [we asked ourselves] how can we make sure we have a seat at the table to where we can help draft these regulations to keep our pilots safe.”

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