Alaska using new tool to mitigate avalanche risks: Drones

February 28, 2024

Alaska’s latest experiment in avalanche mitigation demonstrates how drone technology can be used for public safety and could serve as a blueprint for other states to find similar uses.

The Alaksa Department of Transportation (DOT) and Public Facilities (PF) recently triggered two slides using explosives deployed from an unmanned aerial system (UAS). Working in collaboration with Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARCC), the departments utilized Drone Amplified‘s Drone Avalanche Reduction Technology (DART) to create the slides.

“This demonstration represents a significant step forward in avalanche risk reduction for our public highways,” Timothy Glassett, DOT&PF Avalanche and Artillery Program Manager said in a statement. “The State of Alaska is moving away from military artillery as a primary means of avalanche mitigation and will adopt Remote Avalanche Control Systems (RACS). UAS will help fill the gap where RACS are not feasible or economical.”

Using UAS for avalanche mitigation has both pros and cons, Glassett told Government Market News. UAS require fewer people to operate and are cheaper than renting a helicopter. Drones are also more readily available and lower the exposure to risk. However, there are more restrictions on using UAS to deploy explosives because it is still in a research phase.

It is currently illegal to operate a drone with a dangerous weapon attached in the United States. Additionally, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements on drones include operating limitations and remote pilot specificities.

To overcome those, Alaska had to file waiver and approval documentation to complete their tests, making them the first state to receive authorization for UAS testing. State officials said they are willing to share waiver and approval documentation with other areas that could use drones to mitigate avalanches.

“We were just handed a tool to help aircraft manufacturers get their drones certified for use,” the Alaska Center for UAS Integration Director Cathy Cahill said in a statement. “The FAA is allowing the test site to test and evaluate larger drones under real-world conditions. This will allow us to support the development of a strong drone economy in Alaska and across the nation.”

The example waiver and authorization will be available on Alaska’s avalanche program page.

Photo by Sovxx

Gracie Warhurst

Gracie Warhurst has joined Strategic Partnerships, Inc. as a writer and digital content creator for the new Government Market News portal. With a rich background in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, Warhurst has experience as editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, assistant web editor, and project manager for an AI journalism project. She also contributed as a reporter during the development of SPI's news portal. Warhurst graduated summa cum laude in December 2023 with a Bachelor's in Journalism and a certificate in creative writing, making her a valuable asset to the SPI team.

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