FAA allows Salina program to use drones statewide

SALINA, Kan. (AP) — Federal authorities are allowing Kansas State University-Salina to fly unmanned aircraft across the state under several restrictions.

The unmanned aircraft program at the university has been able to fly the machines, commonly called drones, in areas near Salina and Manhattan for years. The FAA announced Tuesday that the school can fly the drones across Kansas, including over private property with the owner’s permission, The Salina Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1DpKRuM ).

Program manager Mark Blanks said the authorization will allow the school to expand its research but he stressed that the university won’t compete with private companies. The current flights must be geared to research, he said.

“In Manhattan, we’re looking at a pest that’s prevalent in wheat, and we’re trying to find out how we can detect that pest using unmanned systems,” Blanks said. “We can’t just provide a service — all of our flights have to have a research focus.”

Other restrictions imposed by the FAA are that the flights must be below 700 feet, must be during the day and the controller must always be able to see the vehicle. Missions cannot fly over heavily trafficked roads or over outside gatherings of people.

Kansas State Salina also requires the pilots to have completed an FAA private pilot ground instruction and passed the written exam within the past 24 months. The pilot also must hold a private pilot certificate if flying above 400 feet and must have a second-class FAA medical certificate.

Blanks worked on the application for the new certifications since August 2013. He said the FAA had numerous questions about such subjects as privacy and coordinating with air-traffic control before granting such a large authorization.

The FAA approval gives the school a chance to meet its research requirements and helps prove how unmanned aircraft can be used, said Kurt Carraway, Kansas State Salina’s UAS flight operations manager.

“Any time the FAA opens an opportunity like this, it’s an opportunity for proof-of-concept, to show there are ways to safely integrate UAS into the general airspace,” he said. “We’re helping show it can be done.”


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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