USA — Senator Michael Bennet is urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to consider the benefits Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) technology can provide for wildfire monitoring and suppression when it chooses up to six new testing sites for these aircraft. The testing sites will help the FAA study how to best integrate UAS technology into our national airspace in a way that protects the privacy and safety of Americans.
Congress passed legislation over a year ago directing the FAA to begin a process that incorporates UAS technology into the civil aviation system with six test sites around the country. The FAA has announced guidelines for its selection process with specific safeguards designed to ensure the privacy and safety of anyone living near a test site. Bennet is urging the FAA to locate at least two of the six sites in states that regularly experience wildfires.
In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta, Bennet wrote, Unmanned aerial vehicles hold out the potential to help first responders map, measure, and combat fires in ways that will strengthen our firefighting capabilities. This technology can help first responders see through smoke, utilize infrared technology, and fly through areas too dangerous for traditional aircraft, allowing them to identify hotspots and predict directional changes in a fire more effectively.
Bennet also pointed out that a major Colorado wildfire this year showcased the value of UAS technology. This past summer, for example, UAS technology was used to detect a dangerous remnant from the Black Forest fire in Colorado, which firefighters extinguished before it could reach a major gas pipeline, Bennet wrote in the letter.
Bennet introduced an amendment with Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) earlier this year to create two additional test sites that would focus primarily on fighting wildfires. By focusing on wildfire monitoring, mitigation, and containment, the test sites would give emergency management and aviation officials a better idea of how UAS technology can be used to combat the devastating effects of wildfires.
Bennet has been a strong advocate for wildfire mitigation efforts. In August, he introduced a bipartisan, deficit-neutral bill that would award competitive grants to states for priority wildfire mitigation and preparedness projects on federal, state, and private land. He was also successful in securing two key provisions in the Senate version of the 2013 Farm Bill that would improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires: his National Forest and Insect Disease Act, which would prioritize the treatment of national forest land that is suffering from insect epidemics, and his Permanent Stewardship Contracting Reauthorization Act, which would permanently reauthorize stewardship contracting, an important tool that allows the USFS to partner with private businesses and individuals to help thin trees and reduce fuel loads.
Bennet also led members of the Colorado delegation in successfully urging President Obama to designate the Black Forest and Royal Gorge Fires as major disasters. He was also instrumental in securing Emergency Watershed Protection funds for areas affected by last year’s High Park and Waldo Canyon fires.