A simple solution to a complex problem, demonstrated in rural Colorado

Over the first two days of October in the rural southeastern Colorado community of La Junta, crop dusters and drone operators demonstrated how they could share the sky. Participants in the annual Operation S.A.F.E. Fly-In of the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association (CAAA) collaborated with UAS Colorado to demonstrate how technology powered by AirMap can promote communication and coordination of flight operations in agricultural areas. The operation is a proof-of-concept that will be refined and rolled out across the country in the near future.

Sam Rogge, a crop duster from Colorado and a veteran Air Force pilot, believes that drones are a new and exciting frontier in agriculture technology, and he’s doing his part to keep crop dusters safe. Together with CAAA and UAS Colorado, he’s finding ways to de-conflict drones and crop dusters, which both operate in the low-altitude airspace above agricultural fields. Agricultural aircraft protect more than 71 million acres of United States cropland each year. Mr. Rogge explained that the keys to maintaining the safety of pilots and drone operators are education, communication, coordination of flights, technology, and appropriate regulatory guidance.

Sam Rogge (left) pictured with his AgHusky crop duster and Constantin Diehl, Interim CEO of UAS Colorado (center) and Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap (right).

Over the next several years, increasingly automated systems will help drones navigate safe and efficient paths, taking into account other drones, manned aircraft traffic, winds, obstacles, and other elements. But as the industry works to develop comprehensive solutions, there are simple, pragmatic tools that can be implemented immediately to help keep people safe. CAAA Executive Director Jessica Freeman explained to me that crop duster pilots have welcomed technology into their work but they’re practical people, and they’re excited about real solutions that can help make their jobs safer right away.

In the demonstration last week, crop duster pilots and drone operators used a simple iPhone app to indicate where and when they intended to fly. The app uses AirMap’s backend services to provide a map visualization of all of the flight plans so that everyone can keep tabs on where other aircraft and drones are operating. Clicking on a flight plan on the map brings up a chat window so that operators can coordinate with each other to avoid collisions. UAS Colorado Interim CEO Constantin Diehl believes that this approach is a simple and effective way to increase the safety of UAS operations. In addition to the demonstration, the Operation S.A.F.E. fly-in featured crop duster spray pattern testing, safety briefings from the NTSB and Colorado State Patrol, and training sessions for first responders from around Colorado.

AirMap airspace information and services are available to application developers through the AirMap SDK and APIs.

At AirMap, we believe information is what will power innovation, and we are making this dynamic airspace information available to operators, manufacturers and software developers. This demonstration proves the utility of empowering people to share airspace information, including the location of drones and manned aircraft. We believe the best way to promote safety is to make information available in useful ways, regardless of which platform someone is using. Our Software Development Kit has been released for testing to a limited number of application developers and will be fully deployed by the end of November. To sign up for access to the AirMap SDK, visit www.airmap.com/developers