Drone Operation Agreement Reached

SALISBURY – Wicomico County officials this week approved a concession agreement with a company to provide unmanned aircraft flight operations at the Salisbury airport.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to accept a concession agreement between the county and Sentinel Robotic Solutions (SRS) LLC.

“This is a concession agreement instead of a lease because SRS is providing a service, not renting a facility,” Airport Manager Dawn Veatch said. “The facility is being built by the county. There will be office space and other things rented in that facility that will not be for this portion of this agreement.”

Veatch told the council SRS was experienced in operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones.

“They have the expertise to operate this,” she said. “They’ve done this seamlessly with tremendous success. We are fortunate to have a leader in the industry here as our partner, and I look forward to being able to develop all the new, future things that are coming down the road with drones and the aviation community.”

The agreement comes as officials with the Salisbury airport prepare for expanded drone programs and facilities. According to the concession agreement, SRS will operate from the airport’s UAS facility.

Councilman Joe Holloway, howev-er, voiced his concerns regarding proposed drone operations.

“When we first started talking about this several months ago, it was supposed to be fixed-wing drones,” he said. “That was the understanding I was getting from this, and I’ve had concerns from some citizens. There are people out there that are concerned about the vertical lifts.”

Veatch told the council flight operations at the facility would include several types of drones.

“There are no drones being excluded,” she said. “We have runway-type drone equipment that will use the runway and we have vertical lift [drones].”

However, Veatch stressed safety measures that would facilitate drone operations.

“We have prescribed departures for ingress, egress that protect the operations on the active runways,” she said. “Those are all being published in a chart for all pilots to review and be able to see. There will be NOTAMS, or notice to airmen, generated for every pilot that flies. They are supposed to get them before they take off, as well as a local NOTAM where the tower will advise if drone activity is currently in operation.”

Veatch added that everyone would be aware of drone operations at the airport.

“Typically, the vertical lift is below 400 feet and aircraft are not supposed to be below 400 feet inside the five-mile radius of the airport. It’s restricted,” she said. “We feel we have a very safe operation.”

Veatch told council members she would also come before them in a meeting next month for permission to utilize drone detection technology at the airport.

“It’s on the agenda to go ahead and get that technology installed so we can track and monitor all drone equipment operating in our airspace and coordinate with air traffic control,” she said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.