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Fort Myers selected for drone project aimed at mosquito control

File photo of a drone. [Washington Post (2013)]
File photo of a drone. [Washington Post (2013)]
Published May 13, 2018

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced 10 sites for a test program aimed at increasing the use of unmanned aircraft for projects that range from monitoring crops and oil pipelines in North Dakota to package deliveries in Tennessee and applying mosquito-killing treatments in Florida.

President Donald Trump signed a directive last year to establish the "innovation zones" that allow exemptions to some drone regulations, such as flying over people, nighttime flights and flights where the aircraft can't be seen by the operator. States, communities and tribes selected to participate would devise their own trial programs in partnership with government and industry drone users.

The Lee County Mosquito Control District plans to use its drones for tracking down mosquito larvae to control the pests population.

"We're looking at methods where we could actually use that for surveillance to monitor and see where we have larvae in the county, places that are harder to get to," Eric Jackson, LCMCD Public Information Officer told NBC2.

It's an extremely difficult task for inspectors to locate mosquito larvae before they become adults.

"Our inspectors are out in the field and in those places where those mosquitoes are breeding," Jackson told NBC2, "and our inspectors are getting bitten."

Drones would allow the inspectors to avoid that duty, plus save time and money.

"Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace," Chao said in a statement.

Chao, who called the rapidly developing drone industry the biggest development since the jet age, said about 150 applications were received. Selected were the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; the cities of San Diego, Calif., and Reno, Nev.; state transportation departments in North Dakota, North Carolina and Kansas; University of Alaska-Fairbanks; the Center for Innovative Technology in Virginia; Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority in Memphis, Tenn.; and the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Fort Myers.

The unmanned aircraft industry has pushed for relaxed restrictions, and the Trump administration has said current regulations have limited drone use, forcing companies to test overseas.

Steven Bradbury, a lawyer for the federal Transportation Department, said drones have caused some "apprehension" with the public but one of the initiative's biggest goals will be increased "community awareness and acceptance" of unmanned aircraft.

Bradbury said there is no direct federal funding for the test program.

Information from the Associated Press supplements this report.