Thursday, April 13, 2017

Steamboat Springs (KSBS), Colorado: Airport manager aims to keep airspace safe



Steamboat Springs — With a medical helicopter regularly flying missions less than 500 feet above the city of Steamboat Springs, the city’s airport manager is reminding a growing population of local drone pilots they need to register their aircraft and follow federal rules to keep the skies safe.

Those rules include the need for pilots of unmanned aircraft to contact the Steamboat Springs Airport anytime they plan to fly within five miles of the runway.

The five-mile radius around the city’s municipal airport covers much of the city limits and extends very close to the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

“The last thing we want is for a drone to pop up and fly into the windscreen (of a helicopter) or get caught in the rotor head,” Airport Manager Stacie Fain said.

Fain said Thursday she hasn’t heard of any close calls between local aircraft and drones.

But with drones rapidly increasing in popularity, and some close encounters with passenger aircraft making national headlines, she’s hoping some education could help avert a disaster down the road.

“I’m trying to get out in front of it,” she said.

Fain said some commercial drone pilots who are flying within five miles of the airport have already contacted her and provided flight plans.

In one instance, a commercial drone pilot was taking real estate photos close to the helipad at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Fain said a call from that drone pilot allowed her to alert local helicopter pilots who regularly fly in that area so they had a heads up about the other aircraft.

Drone pilots should call the airport at least two hours in advance if they are flying nearby.

The rules are not meant to deter drone pilots from flying, Fain said.

Fain herself pilots a Phantom II drone, and she did consulting work for commercial drone companies before moving to Steamboat.

“We want people to fly them and enjoy them and use them for business,” she said. “But this also means they need to take more responsibility for safety.”

As airport manager, Fain said she mostly fears the risks of recreational drone pilots putting their crafts into the skies without knowing the rules.

Some drones can operate higher than 1,000 feet off the ground, and pilots of manned-aircraft often cannot see them in flight.

Up until recently, commercial drone pilots previously had to get a pilot’s license before they were legal to fly.

With rule changes that went into effect last fall, commercial pilots are able to more easily obtain a pilot certificate specifically for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds.

To learn more about drone safety and federal rules, visit knowbeforeyoufly.org.

How to provide drone flight plan to KSBS

Pilots flying drones within five miles of Steamboat Springs Airport need to call 970-879-9042 or 970-879-1204 at least two hours before they plan to fly. Pilots will be asked to provide the drone registration number, as well as their flight plans.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.steamboattoday.com

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