A sense of history hovered over Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts on Friday as he gingerly took the controls of an unmanned quadcopter on the edge of an alfalfa field, reports Tim Unruh of the Salina Journal.
“I feel like Orville and Wilbur,” the Kansas Republican joked in referring to the Wright brothers, aviation pioneers credited with making the first controlled manned flight 102 years ago.
What excited Roberts, the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, was the technology’s practical application on the farm and its march toward broad acceptance.
“It’s a step-by-step basis,” Roberts said during a UAV demonstration Friday at the Precision Agriculture and Technology Field Event on the Knopf farm, near Kipp.
The Federal Aviation Administration is making progress in writing rules for commercial use of drones, which is expected to produce tens of thousands of jobs in Kansas and across the nation. The FAA regulations are expected to be finalized sometime in 2016, said Elizabeth Cory, an FAA spokeswoman, in Des Plaines, IL.
Ahead of the regulations, some 2,200 companies have received federal certificates of authorization to operate UAV, no more than 200 feet above ground and at least 5 miles from a public airport, said Travis Balthazor, a UAS pilot on staff at Kansas State University Polytechnic, in Salina.
Special authorization can be applied for if companies need certificates of authorization with fewer restrictions, he said. Among those FAA-approved companies is Witt Tech, 1648 S. Ohio, No. 117, in Salina.
“When the regulations become published, that number is gonna grow exponentially,” Balthazor said.
Sen. Roberts is in no hurry. He is pleased with the pace by which this new industry is taking hold.