A UAS is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft. The UA is the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely. The FAA issues an experimental airworthiness certificate for the entire system, not just the flying portion of the system.
UAS technology is being used to broaden GIS and IT services and expand Ada County departmental capabilities. Landfill flights are being conducted on a monthly basis, allowing much greater analysis of waste management than was previously capable with annual manned flights. The images collected are post-processed to create 3-D models, orthomosaics, and digital elevation models that can be imported into GIS for analysis.
As the UAS program grows, Ada County is looking to utilize the technology in other areas such as Weed, Pest, and Mosquito Abatement, and Parks and Waterways.
Ada County operates our UAS program under a FAA approved public certificate of authorization (COA). For more information please see the FAA's COA website.
Ada County operates small UAS (sUAS) for all of its operations. Aircraft less than 55 lbs, visual line of sight operations only, with a maximum altitude of 400 ft, and an average speed of 15 mph for survey missions.
Federal law defines a UAS as an aircraft, and, as such, public agencies and organizations are permitted access to operate in the U.S. airspace system. Federal law allows government entities to perform certain governmental functions in the NAS as "public aircraft" operations. While public aircraft operations generally must follow airspace rules, they are not subject to the same requirements as civil aircraft operations. Public UAS operations fall within the existing statutory definitions of public aircraft as outlined in Advisory Circular 00-1.1A.
A public UAS operation must be conducted under the authority of a COA issued by the FAA. A COA for a public UAS operation permits public agencies and organizations to operate a particular aircraft, for a particular purpose, in a particular area. The COA allows an operator to use a defined block of airspace and includes special safety provisions unique to the proposed operation.
A COA is an authorization issued by the FAA to grant NAS access for a specific UAS activity. COAs contain requirements the holder must follow. The FAA issues COAs for both public UAS operations and civil UAS operations.
Under 49 United States Code 40103, the United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States and the FAA has the authority to prescribe air traffic regulations on the flight of aircraft, including UAS. Whether Federal law preempts state or local requirements for UAS depends on the precise nature of those requirements. The Department of Transportation evaluates these laws or requirements on a case-by-case basis to make sure they don't conflict with FAA's authority to provide safe and efficient use of U.S. airspace.