Ada County seeks approval from FAA to use drones

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Using drones in military, law enforcement and agriculture has become the new normal in daily life even in the relatively short period unmanned aircrafts have become available to the public.

However, now a county in southwestern Idaho says drones belong in the trash.

Ada County officials have recently submitted an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to use a small commercial drone to collect valuable geographical data, starting with the region's landfill.

Currently, the county spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to fly manned aircraft just to gather information about land use, said Stephen O'Meara, Ada's information technology director.

For example, the county can only afford to take aerial photos of the 2,700-acre landfill once a year because manned-aircraft can cost as much as $700 an hour to rent.

But at the same time, the county is under pressure to keep an eye on the region's landfill considering it collected 440,000 tons of waste from four cities and four separate local government agencies in 2014.

O'Meara said using a drone could provide an easy way to learn how quickly the area is expanding not only in sprawl but also in height.

"We have high hopes," O'Meara said. "We feel this could be very beneficial that does not cost a lot of money to the taxpayer."

According to the FAA, it'll take 60 to 90 days to process the county's application barring any delays stemming from legal questions and agency response.

Larry Maneely, the county's chief of staff, said the county will post online when and where the drone flies to help prevent fears from those who may distrust governmental agencies using drones.

"Nothing will happen in secret," he said. "These things have to fly below 400 feet so they will be in eyesight and every flight has to be pre-approved."

Overtime, Maneely and O'Meara would like to see drone use help collect data to pinpoint spraying pesticides to kill mosquitoes and invasive weeds.

O'Meara added that he doesn't know of any other similar drone efforts in other Idaho counties or cities. Instead, drone use in Idaho has been much more traditional.

In 2012, Canyon County — which neighbors Ada County — used a $34,000 grant from U.S. Homeland Security to buy a 2-pound drone for aerial surveillance and public safety. County deputies say the drones help with investigations, barricaded subjects and rescue missions.

In January, Advanced Aviation Solutions — located in Star, Idaho — became the first agriculture-based company to receive a FAA exemption for commercial use. Meanwhile, scientists at Boise State University deployed drones in western Idaho with three different cameras to study sagebrush, a critical landscape that is playing a key factor if the federal government will list a football-sized bird found in 11 states.

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