Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Hilo announced Monday that the Federal Aviation Administration granted a Certificate of Authorization for the use of an unmanned aircraft to assess wiliwili trees on the Big Island.
Nick Turner, geospatial analyst at UH-Hilo, had been working on the application for eight months.
“Basically, what the COA process is is an approval process to fly UAVs in a specified area,” he said.
Previous projects involving UAVs didn’t require a COA since they were used for recreational purposes. With the FAA’s approval, Turner and his fellow researchers will be able to use their expertise to assist the state Department of Land and Natural Resources in collecting and analyzing data on the struggling species.
The project will start once a permit is granted by the Hawaii Experimental Tropical Forest.
Ray Bédard, specialist faculty at UH-Hilo, has been working to establish aviation-related courses at the college as part of the proposed Hilo International Flight Center.
He said the approval is a step forward for the university that’s looking to expand UAV-related research for the purpose of data analysis.
“The philosophy of FAA is to take baby steps. If we can show that we know what we’re doing, the request process will get easier,” he said.
According to Bédard, a COA is granted to a specific machine, for a specific time, airspace, and for specific people.
Ryan Perroy, assistant professor in the deptartment of geography and environmental science at UH-Hilo, said he’s excited to start working on the project.
“This is the first of many different projects we’ll have,” he said.
The university is the first in the state to receive a COA.
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