- Denise G. Callahan Staff Writer
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office is working to gain certification to operate drones, which can be used for evidence gathering and in searches.
The sheriff’s office will need to apply with the Federal Aviation Administration to become a Public Aircraft Operator (PAO) for the $1,200 drone, according to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.
“They thought this will be an easy process, we will just make sure the FAA is on board with this and we’ll use this little $1,200 gizmo with it’s camera, wonderful project, inexpensive…” Gmoser said. “Like any bureaucracy they (the FAA) have all of these regulations that have to be followed and the application process is very complicated.”
Lt. Randall Lambert said the process is going to take about six months, but the drone will be an invaluable tool for the department.
“It has two cameras, we can take still photos and we can take movies of crime scenes if we need to,” he told commissioners Monday morning. “The quality of the film is very good … It’s not necessarily going to eliminate the helicopter because it has its own uses. This will be a tool for aviation if we have something that doesn’t need a helicopter, or need to find someone or we have to collect (information about) say a fatality accident.”
Because the county already flies helicopters and has pilots, Gmoser said it should be relatively easy to gain FAA approval.
The FAA has estimated the sales of unmanned vehicles, or drones, will soar from about 2.5 million this year to 7 million in 2020.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers expressed concern the PAO would be a blanket approval for anyone.
“I don’t want everybody having them all at once,” he said.
Gmoser said the FAA approval at this juncture is just for the sheriff’s office, though there may be other department who may want to use drones in the future. For example, he said, the development department may want to use drones to look for code violations.
“This is going to be limited to the Butler County sheriff by you. It’s not a matter equal protection, where somebody could say ‘you gave one to the sheriff why can’t you give one to me’,” Gmoser said.
The FAA requires people to register — the sheriff’s drone is number N689BC — hobby or recreational drones weighing just over a half a pound up to 55 pounds. Since the rule took effect, more than 408,000 drones have been registered as of mid-March.