With a little legal help from Mobile’s own Hand Arendall LLC, the Atlantic Coast Conservancy Inc. became on May 11 the first nonprofit land trust to obtain Federal Aviation Administration approval for drone use to aid conservation operations.
Hand Arendall’s Neil Johnston and Carolyne Jones represented the Jasper, Ga.-based conservancy in its petition for FAA approval to use a small unmanned aircraft system for commercial environmental monitoring and conservation tasks.
Specifically, the conservancy’s exemption allows for the operation of a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ to provide aerial photography, monitor protected species, survey, map and maintain baseline and inventory in low-risk, controlled environments. Atlantic Coast and its subsidiaries currently serve Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia.
“Not only does drone usage enhance our mission of ‘real-time’ data capture of fragile biotic habitats, it enables us to potentially monitor abiotic factors such as fluxes in greenhouse gas emissions in a remote fashion, thereby avoiding costly fixed monitoring solutions,” Robert D. Keller, the conservancy’s chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.
Drones are particularly useful in aiding conservation activities, he said, because they provide a safe way to access difficult-to-reach, sensitive environments, allowing the collection of critical information that avoids the cost, noise and danger associated with traditional fuel-operated and manned aircraft.
Neil Johnston, chairman of Hand Arendall’s Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Practice Group, called the legal and regulatory issues involving the use and operation of drones “fascinating and complex.”
“The issues are evolving as fast as the technology and the sUAS industry,” Johnston said.