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Somewhere, Over the Border, UAS Fly

By Patrick C. Miller | September 09, 2014

Not every business that wants to fly UAS in the United States for commercial purposes is waiting for FAA approval. Some are flying in other countries, gaining knowledge they can apply here once the airspace opens up.

A good example is LW Survey Co. headquartered in Duluth, Minn. The company works with the oil and gas industry in both the U.S. and Canada. One service that LWS provides in Canada is UAS surveying for pipeline routes.

Although the firm has an office in Minot, N.D., to serve the booming oil and gas business in the state’s Bakken formation, it can’t fly UAS commercially in the U.S.

“We will plan to use UASs commercially in the United States—specifically the Bakken with direct support from our Minot office—when the FAA approves and provides guidelines for their commercial use,” said Eric Harnisch, vice president of corporate development for Pulsar International Boundary Inc., the holding company for LWS.

In the meantime, LWS is finding that the Canadian government is willing to allow the use of UAS technology in remote, unpopulated areas.

“It is legal and a fairly straightforward process to get permission to fly,” Harnisch says. “You fill out the paperwork, and typically within a week and a half, we’re allowed to do it on behalf of a client.”

LWS flies the Trimble UX5 and the Trimble X100 UAVs on its Canadian projects. Data collected from the flights is used for site assessment, 4D construction monitoring, topographical surveying and volume calculations.

Over the next 10 years, Harnisch sees UAS being deployed in stages. Within three years, he believes the FAA will approve the use of small, lightweight UAVs. The development of reliable sense-and-avoid technology within the next three to five years will further open the national airspace to UAS integration. And in five to 10 years, Harnisch believes gas-powered UAVs with longer flight times and larger payloads will be in widespread use.

As LWS demonstrates, just because the FAA is in a holding pattern on allowing UAS flights for commercial use, it doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities available elsewhere to gain valuable experience and expertise in the field.