Written by ISHANI DESAI [email protected]
Kern County and the company American Aerospace Technologies have signed a letter of intent to create a Regional Operations Center at the Buttonwillow Airport, which would bring new unmanned aircraft to the airport.
The letter stipulates the environmental and state requirements that the company must comply with to begin construction.
“We’re super excited that they believe that the airport can serve their needs,” said Mark Witsoe, director of Kern County’s airports.
The Buttonwillow Airport has little use to many residents; operationally, flight trainers mainly employ the airport to practice taking off and landing planes, Witsoe said. The structure’s sparse nature means AAT will create a new facility to house its technology, he added.
“Our goal is to establish a permanent presence in California with this as our hub,” said David Yoel, the CEO of American Aviation Technology. He hopes to finalize negotiations and start construction in the next six months.
Kern County serves as a perfect base for the company because of its central location, Yoel said. Furthermore, the county has a wide range of applications the aircraft can serve, he added.
Yoel said his unmanned aircraft systems cannot be mistaken for drones. While a traditional drone can operate for 20 minutes and must fly below 400 feet, the UAS can fly for 15 hours and at altitudes up to 15,000 feet, Yoel said. Moreover, the UAS is environmentally friendly and can burn less fuel when compared to some smaller drones, he said.
“It creates a fundamentally different kind of capability that doesn’t currently exist in civilian applications,” Yoel said.
The company desires to partner with the local companies to uphold its mission statement: maintain health, safety and compliance. The technology can assist oil and gas production, agriculture and fire departments, Yoel said. UAS sends back imagery in real time to stave off any threats, he added.
Unmanned aircraft can fly into areas not easily accessible by a person. Therefore, the technology spots potential gas leaks, fire outbreaks and helps growers understand their land, Yoel said.
AAT foresees bringing smaller versions of its larger aircraft to Buttonwillow. This technology weighs 220 pounds and has an 18-foot wingspan. Smaller UAS also includes integrated artificial intelligence that can detect threats to power and pipe lines, often spanning hundreds of miles. Furthermore, the compact equipment can access areas along power lines that are dangerous or inaccessible by an individual, Yoel said.
The potential Buttonwillow Regional Operations Center is the second such creation by the company within the nation. Another center is located in New Jersey. AAT worked on a project with NASA at the Buttonwillow airport, which sprouted the idea to create a Kern County center, Yoel said.
Witsoe said Kern County airports have never housed unmanned equipment that can be used by civilians.
“David Yoel and the company, AAT, seems to be a great new entity to move out here to Kern County,” Witsoe said. “I’m really hopeful we can put something together that lasts a long time.”
This article first appeared in Bakersfield.com
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