Butler County Times Gazette
  • City hears proposal for UAS business at airport

  • Flint Hills Solutions is proposing a new business for the airport in El Dorado.

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  • Flint Hills Solutions is proposing a new business for the airport in El Dorado.
    Roger Powers, president and CEO of Flint Hills Solutions, talked to the El Dorado City Commission Jan. 19 about his proposal to relocate part of his unmanned aircraft system business at the airport.
    “We have worked hard over the last couple of years devising our airport master plan and business plan,” said Brad Meyer, assistant public works director.
    Their goal was to bring businesses and services to the airport, which is what Powers was suggesting.
    Powers began by telling a little history of the company.
    He started the company five years ago, and they have done work for the Department of Defense, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security and other public segments that could use their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
    “Basically, we approached the El Dorado airport for the critical services they have that is an attraction for our company,” he explained.
    The first of those attractions is airspace.
    “For an unmanned air vehicle, air space is everything,” he said.
    The airport also offers paved services and a paved runway, as well as facilities.
    “We would like a partnership to explore utilizing the airspace and airport itself,” Powers said.
    According to a study, the UAS services is fast approaching being an $8 billion a year business.
    “Our main purpose for our business is relating to emergency response,” Powers said.
    He explained there were some things that happened during the Greensburg tornado that people didn’t know about, such as there were multiple tornadoes.
    He said they didn’t have situational awareness to know how to respond to the other tornadoes or where they were needed.
    The arial surveillance their UAS systems provide help to prioritize special resources in order to save lives.
    “We will be there in the next tornado,” Powers said. “We will be there in the next flood. Any kind of major event, we will most likely be called upon to respond. Everyone needs that live video and needs to know how to use that video.”
    Currently the business operates in Butler County, near Leon and Augusta, as well as near Salina.
    He showed some of the helicopters used. The large gas helicopter can provide up to two hours of video, and they are allowed to fly in national airspace.
    Powers said there were several benefits, including that the UAS don’t risk human lives and can go up into such places as a hurricane where a manned aircraft can’t go. They do require professional pilots.
    Flint Hills Services also has manned aircraft and Cessna aircraft, which they would likely relocate to El Dorado as well if this moves forward.
    Page 2 of 2 - To continue their work, they have to have an approved field to train and fly, which they hope will be El Dorado. The city would have to get a certificate of authorization from the FAA in order for this to happen.
    The application process is 60 days, although it often takes four to five months. Flint Hills Services would do the application on behalf of the city.
    Their hope would be to bring in large companies.
    He said they like El Dorado because it is near to them, where the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range near Salina is not as convenient and does not offer a runway. El Dorado is also close enough to Wichita so people could fly in to Wichita for training and have a place to stay in El Dorado.
    “If it’s located outside of the city and it’s in an unpopulated area that’s very important,” he said. “FAA won’t sign a permit if it is densely populated.”
    Powers also pointed out they would not have little interference with regular airport operations.
    “Most of the work with UASs is done on a simulator laptop,” he said.
    When there are flights, the launch takes about 10 minutes, as does the landing, and they would notify the airport during that time. There would usually be one launch in the morning and one in the afternoon.
    The company also is looking at a future facility.
    Although they have already purchased land in other locations, Powers said there is an opportunity to change direction and put their headquarters at the airport as well if everything works out.
    Herb Llewellyn, city manager, said the normal process would be to send the request to the Airport Advisory Board for feedback.
    The commission agreed to send it to the board to review.
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