LCMCD Awaiting Judge’s Decision - Drone Program Begins

The Lee County Mosquito Control District is currently awaiting a judge’s decision on the lawsuit that was filed regarding the County’s determination of Woodstock-FL86 airport use. The District currently has a six month lease on the airport, with an option to renew for another six months. While waiting for the judge’s decision, the lease allows the District to conduct an assessment on the infrastructure, determine engineering requirements, formulate an LDO, (Limited Development Order) and begin the permitting process. It also allows the contract to purchase to be extended until the ruling is received.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao on May 9, 2018, announced that USDOT has selected 10 state, local and tribal governments as participants in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. First announced last October, this White House initiative partners the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with local, state and tribal governments, which then partner with private sector participants to safely explore the further integration of drone operations. “Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace.” said Secretary Chao.

The USDOT and its FAA evaluated each of the 149 proposals they received according to the requirements outlined in a Screening Information Request. There were 10 finalists of which the Lee County Mosquito Control District was one and the only one related to mosquito control. The program is a coordinated effort to provide certainty and stability to communities, drone owners and the rapidly evolving drone industry.

The 10 final selectees will work with the FAA to refine their operational concepts through Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs). The MOAs will establish the parties’ responsibilities, describe specific concepts of operations they will undertake, establish any data-sharing requirements, and specify that no federal funds will be spent on the program.

The LCMCD’s Integrated Pest Management program relies heavily on aerial methods to not only locate the breeding grounds for mosquitoes, but also for treatments. The District is looking for ways to improve its operation both in efficiency, safety, and precision.

The District currently has two small drones (under 55 lbs) used for surveillance. These have primarily been used by the Lee County Hyacinth Control District to monitor aquatic vegetation levels in waterways. The proposal submitted by LCMCD indicates the intention to expand beyond the current use and potentially use drones for surveilling mosquito breeding grounds and completing treatment missions. One of the possible drone platforms is the Teros aircraft, manufactured by Navmar Applied Sciences Corporation. This is a larger drone (1500 lbs) that could potentially be used for surveillance as well as treatment missions beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS).

"UAS technology may assist us in achieving those goals, and being a part of this program gives us a ‘seat at the table’ with the Department of Transportation and the FAA to help craft new regulations that are sensible for our District and community," stated a LCMCD representative.

He goes on to say, " The District will determine the economic feasibility of this partnership as the program moves forward. All decisions made by the District regarding our involvement with this program will be made with the maximum benefit of the community held first and foremost. The purpose of this partnership is to integrate UAS into existing airspace. Under FAA guidance, the LCMCD may operate our unmanned aircraft out of any airfield that suits the mission, whether it be the Buckingham Airfield (FL59), Woodstock Airport (FL86), Page Field (FMY), or any of our existing heliports."