FAA Approves Williamson County Sheriff’s Office To Operate Uas In Under 90 Days



FRANKLIN, Tenn. – Feb. 26, 2016  In an ongoing effort to utilize technology to be more efficient with taxpayer money,the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee has taken steps to integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in their operations, achieving approval in less than 90 days.

Sheriff Jeff Long said he wants to use the aircraft to aid the fire department by getting aerial images of large fires or vehicular accidents and assist the county’s SWAT team during emergencies, scan heavily vegetated areas for missing persons, during hostage crises, – in a Search and Rescue environment, a UAS can complete the work of 875 man-hours in 30 minutes.  UAS will allow the agency to go to places and access information that we never could have before, and nearby counties have struggled through the vigorous FAA approval process for over two years without receiving approval.  By enlisting Huntsville-based Avion Solutions’ experienced Commercial UAS Team, Williamson County was able to rapidly go from decision point to launch point in less than three months.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has applied for and received a Certificate of Authorization (COA) through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow training flights of an Unmanned Aircraft System. The COA will allow limited operations within a restricted unpopulated area for training and evaluation purposes only.  Once the training phase is complete, the agency will submit for Jurisdictional approval to allow the officers to fly the UAS operationally.   The initial training flights will occur in the area near the county jail complex, and the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center.  As a result, Williamson County residents will soon be able to benefit from this versatile technology’s applications – Sheriff Long estimates the program to be fully operational within 90-120 days.

The aircraft being operated is a DJI Inspire 1, and operates with four small rotors that allow it to take off and land vertically. Battery powered and remotely controlled, it can stay aloft for up to 22 minutes on a single charge and also has a built-in 4K camera system with an additional rear-mounted FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) thermal camera.

While the UAS will not replace a traditional aviation unit, there are many circumstances that do not require a fully equipped helicopter/airplane.  Williamson County’s intent is for UAS to assist with lifesaving operations at a significantly reduced cost to the taxpayer, and allow for immediate response when time is critical to achieving the best outcome.

The use of UAS in Law Enforcement is a growing trend nationwide.  More than 80 law enforcement agencies, colleges and other government agencies across the nation have been granted or applied for permits to fly UAS, according to FAA records.

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About Avion Solutions

Avion Solutions Inc. is a certified small employee-owned business that provides engineering, logistics, software engineering, and test & evaluation services. Avion provides programmatic support for all of the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) for Aviation, to include rotary wing, fixed wing, and unmanned aircraft project offices.  As an ISO 9001:2008 certified company headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama, Avion specializes in material solutions and technical support for military-grade projects. They have been providing these solutions to military and Department of Defense customers and commercial clients for over 20 years.  Their broad range of technical expertise includes data analysis, software and biometrics, energy efficiency, and the development of a full spectrum of training solutions ranging from on-site classroom training to interactive multimedia instruction (IMI) programs.  Avion is a privately held company with an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) owning 49%, promoting long-term corporate ownership continuity and commitment to the company.  For more information on Avion, please visitwww.AvionSolutions.com.

What are the Primary uses for UAS?

“Right now we fly our UAS for training purposes only,” stated Long, “until we have FAA approval to operate for Law Enforcement purposes, such as search and rescue missions and collecting images of crime scenes. At the end of the day, the UAS is a camera. We’ve used cameras in our agency for years and our policies have developed over time into a robust guide as to what is appropriate and what is not.”

A bird’s-eye view is an undeniable advantage; however that’s not the main driver.  The cost to fly manned aviation in public safety is estimated around $350 per hour, while UAS operational costs are just below $25 per hour.

“Right now we are trying to dial in our services.  We have a core group of operators and our training is moving beyond how to fly and now focusing on specific tactics. Things like search and rescue missions. This is where we set up a way point over the last known location of the lost individual and progressively fly a set pattern over a known area, and then we can ensure we didn’t miss anything.”

Historically, law enforcement has had the ability to have an aerial view with manned aircraft. As a result, case law has been established that guides our use and there is no effort here to use UAS to circumvent well established 4th Amendment protections. The technology in these civilian systems is appropriately limited. For example, our UAS equipment does not allow us to see through walls, listen to conversations, monitor cell phones, etc. Our unmanned systems are mission and incident driven only. Images collected with the use of this technology are handled and retained within industry standards, consistent with images collected with any camera by law enforcement, and are subject to professional standards, codes of conduct, case law and with the public’s trust in mind.

Taylor Abington, Commercial UAS Project Lead