- Denise G. Callahan Staff Writer
More details have emerged about a potential new drone school at the Butler County Regional Airport, the Journal-News has learned.
David Fehr, Butler County’s director of development, who oversees the airport, said he is awaiting design specifications from Butler Tech for a new drone school, which he will in turn need to give to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval.
“The concept as described to me is they would actually put up poles and netting to keep the drones inside because they can’t just be flying loose,” he said. “They described it as like TopGolf.”
TopGolf in West Chester Twp. is a three-level facility featuring more than 100 hitting bays. But one of its noted characteristics are 27 poles at 170 feet high that hold netting to contain golf balls.
“I don’t know how tall these poles are going to be and fences and if we can make that pass with what the FAA allows,” Fehr said of the proposed drone school project.
Butler Tech is still considering options for the drone school, according to schools spokesman Michael Beauchat.
“There is definitely a lot of interest in getting more education in drone technology,” he said, noting the school’s new drone camp held for the first time this past summer and adult courses for FAA certification.
The FAA has strict rules regarding the interaction of manned flight and unmanned drones, according to Butler County Administrator Charlie Young.
“We are trying to come up with a plan that incorporates drones and manned flight in a way that doesn’t present any safety hazards for our current fliers,” Young said. “The airport was designed for manned flight and we have to make sure we don’t do anything to interfere with that.”
Butler County commissioners have long lamented that the airport is not self sufficient and have been looking for ways to bring in new businesses.
In addition to the potential school — the county would let the school utilize space inside the terminal for classes — the commissioners also awarded a $1.9 million contract this week to replace a large apron area in front of the terminal where larger aircraft and corporate jets are parked.
The county received a $1.8 million grant from the FAA for the project and both the state and the county are chipping in about $100,000 each for the required 10 percent local match for the $2 million project. Fehr said they also received a $100,000 state grant to clear some trees that have grown into obstructions at the airport. All of the work will be done next spring.