This one department of U.S. government is really excited about how it is using drones

Drones and the government have a complicated relationship in terms of use and regulation.

But there’s one government department that is thrilled with drones: the Department of the Interior.

The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of Aviation Services, which has a fleet of 312 drones, flew nearly 5,000 missions in 2017. Those flights were carried out across 32 states and by 200 different pilots. According to the DOI, their fleet includes drones such as the 3DR Solo Quadcopters and Pulse Vapor 55TM Helicopters, made by Pulse Aerospace.

“The Department of the Interior has worked hard to build a UAS program that is a leader in non-Department of Defense applications,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Safety, Resource Protection, and Emergency Services Harry Humbert in a prepared statement. “This technology opens limitless possibilities for resource managers. The Department is proud of the collaboration that uses technology to support wildland fire and natural resource management more safely and more efficiently than ever before.”

Drones flew a range of missions, including fighting wildfires, monitoring dams and spillways, and mapping wildlife.

The DOI shared an exact breakdown of the types of drone flights and in which states they were located:


One of the biggest areas where drones were used was in wildfire suppression. 707 drone missions were carried out across 71 individual wildfires throughout 2017. That’s an 82% increase in drone usage from 2016.

But the DOI has been using drones for much longer than that. The DOI’s drone program launched in 2010 — long before the days of the DJI Phantom. In 2010, the drones flew just 208 flights.

The DOI has stated that using drones is cheaper and more efficient that using humans or manned aircraft to carry out the same tasks.

“Aviation accidents have been the leading cause of fatalities among field biologists,” Mark Bathrick, Director of the Office of Aviation Services said in a prepared statement. “Increasing the use of UAS or drones can increase safety for certain missions. Drones can also instantly deliver high quality data for a fraction of the cost of traditional flights.”

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