The first National Park Service (NPS) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) pilots passed “flight school” in late September 2016 and were certified by the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The nine men and women from Grand Canyon National Park and the NPS’ Alaska Region will fly the UAS’s, also known as drones, in support of search and rescue activities, wildland fire and resource monitoring in the national park system.
The new government owned and operated NPS fleet UAS programs at the Grand Canyon and in Alaska are authorized as a three-year operational test and evaluation program. According to Interagency Aviation Officer, Justin Jager, “The UAS program will provide us with a valuable tool in many situations to increase situational awareness and decrease risk on search and rescue events and park projects.”
The NPS pilots will be working closely together and with other DOI bureaus such as the US Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management to integrate UAS flights into NPS operations. The ultimate goal is to reduce risks to personnel, resources and visitors, and shrink costs to the agency for missions normally accomplished with manned aircraft while accomplishing the mandates of the National Park Service.
Launching, landing or operating a commercial or hobby UAS in the National Park System is prohibited unless approved by the National Park Service under a special use permit. The NPS staff pilots operate UAS under an approval process in DOI and NPS policy. The Grand Canyon National Park and Alaska regional programs have been subject to review and approval by the NPS Associate Director of Visitor and Resource Protection.