Garfield County aims to refine drone use policies |

Garfield County aims to refine drone use policies

Seth Hawk of Hawk Aerial Solutions pilots a drone in Carbondale.
Courtesy photo |

Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie will make a presentation about the benefits, risks and costs associated with Unmanned Aerial Systems to the Board of County Commissioners during Tuesday’s work session. It’s an effort to seek further direction for the future of the county’s drone program.

The program is still in its infancy, and the use of drones remains new both in terms of the technology and the laws that guide it. Condie will look to provide framework of potential UAS operations in Garfield County and to receive further direction from the commissioners.

Condie said the community has expressed interest in drone usage, but it remains up to the commissioners how to proceed.

He postulates that drones could be used to complete tasks that would otherwise be difficult, costly, hazardous or even impossible. He lists a range of departments and activities that drones could be used for, such as road and bridge condition inspection, land surveying, public relations and event coverage. Drones could be used in law enforcement and emergency management, such as crowd monitoring and wild fires.

Condie said he expects the commissioners will seek more public outreach before moving forward, which he said is useful.

“This outreach will educate the public on technology, cost, benefits, liability, safety, and privacy matters related to the integration of UAS into the county operations,” he wrote to the commissioners. “The number of meetings, locations and duration is guided by the BOCC to meet their expectations of public notice and involvement.”

On Tuesday, he hopes to show that drone operations available in Garfield County could be a powerful tool to better serve county-wide operations. Condie acknowledges there are potential risks, employee time and financial commitments to consider.

While the initial funding of the program was approved at $45,000 for the 2017 budget, Condie anticipates that number could go up to $60,000 in the first two years, with the potential to rapidly expand. This year’s $45,000 was used to purchase UAS vehicles, spare parts, computer supplies and training.

Condie sees employee training and compensation as one of the sticking points of the program moving forward.

Drone operators make between $30,000 and $150,000, and the federal government hires drone pilots starting at $50,000 a year, he said.

“Employees wishing to enter the UAS program will need to commit time away from their regularly scheduled work to become FAA certified UAS pilots,” Condie wrote. “Each department will need to calculate the employees cost associated with participation in the program to include time away for regular duties.”

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