ERDC drones will be launched from municipal airport

Published 7:00 pm Monday, January 28, 2019

When employees from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center fly drones in the Warren County area, they’ll be launching from the Vicksburg Municipal Airport.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Friday authorized Mayor George Flaggs Jr. to sign a four-year agreement with ERDC to operate its drones at the airport. The agreement expires Aug. 31, 2023.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

City attorney Nancy Thomas said the agreement includes drone flights by all labs at ERDC.

The agreement is the second between ERDC and the city. The board in April approved a short-term agreement with ERDC to allow employees from its environmental laboratory get training for drones purchased from a new vendor.

“There’s tons of money in the budget for the Department of Defense budget and the Homeland Security budget for this,” Flaggs said. “This is going to be a game changer.

“I think you’re going to see an airport that is going to be very competitive in this region.”

“The ERDC labs have been working with the city of Vicksburg Municipal Airport since November of 2017, utilizing the airport facilities and airspace for unmanned aircraft systems training and data collections,” said Jenny Laird, ERDC Unmanned Aircraft Systems coordinator.

“ The airport manager, Mr. Ron Davis, South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour and Mayor Flaggs have been very generous to allow UAS operations to be conducted on site to provide adequate and safe airspace use for ERDC’s research needs.”

She said the new agreement signed by the Flaggs and ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman will allow “numerous research and training missions to occur at the airport for the next five years.

“This collaboration will allow ERDC researchers to obtain training on new UAS systems, provide training space for flight hours for UAS pilots, allow for unobstructed flying for larger UAS, and provide a testing area for innovative sensor testing and integration onto UAS,” Laird said.

“This agreement allows all seven of the ERDC laboratories to utilize this facility and opens up greater collaboration between the city and other UAS operators while operating in a safe environment under the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines and those of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Laird said.

“The use of this facility will allow ERDC UAS researchers to discover, develop and deliver UAS technologies and capabilities in civil and military research areas.”

Under the agreement, ERDC will operate the drones in the airport’s air space for image data collection, training, facility use, project demonstrations and certification for federal government use.

ERDC officials will notify the airport and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Memphis, Tennessee, Air Traffic Control Center three days in advance of flying the drones and provide proof the airport agrees with the drone operations.

Anyone operating an ERDC drone at the airport must be certified, approved to fly, and have a radio to monitor aircraft activity at the airport. The drones will be required to land if a plane is landing or taking off at the airport, and all activities will be coordinated with the airport director.

ERDC also agrees to share data about the airport property “or any surrounding area that might be utilized by the city” collected during drone flights.

Having a drone program, Monsour said, would be a boost for the area. He pointed to Mississippi State University, which he said has had a longtime drone program, calling it “the flagship university for drones (in Mississippi).”

Drones, he said, “are going to do a tremendous amount (of economic impact) for this airport, for this city. And one day, this airport is going to be a great asset. It’s going to be a diamond in the state of Mississippi for everybody in the state to look at. Drones are going to be the future technology, and ERDC is a great partner.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John