Starkville Rotary Club member Ed Clynch chats with guest speaker Mike Hainsey, right, after Monday's luncheon at the Starkville Country Club. Hainsey, executive director for the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, shared his thoughts on how drones are affecting the aviation industry.
Photo by: Slim Smith/Dispatch Staff
March 12, 2019 10:21:40 AM
When drones hit the mass market about 10 years ago, those in the aviation industry didn't know one thing but knew another.
They didn't know exactly how drones would affect their industry.
They were pretty sure it wouldn't be good.
During his presentation at the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday, Mike Hainsey, executive director at Golden Triangle Regional Airport, recalled the angst created when the first drone using Wi-Fi technology hit the market.
"When they started seeing kids getting millions of drones for Christmas, they sort of freaked out," Hainsey said. "They were afraid of it and what it might do to aviation."
That initial fear, Hainsey said, has diminished as drones have proven to be a useful resource even for airports, which initially feared that drone traffic would be a menace and a safety hazard.
"We've gotten over the 'it's new and it's scary' phase," Hainsey said. "Now we see it as a tremendous tool and, like any tool, it all relies on using it correctly."
Drone fear and loathing subsided more quickly at GTRA than at most airports, Hainsey said, because of what else was happening in the area.
For starters, two local companies, Stark Aerospace and Aurora Flight Sciences, were pioneering work in the field of unmanned aviation. Then, in 2015, Mississippi State University was selected by the FAA to be the lead research institution for its new ASSURE program with 23 other universities providing research to enhance safety of unmanned aircraft.
"I think because of all that, we developed a better understanding of the impact of drones," Hainsey said. "The work (by) David Shaw (MSU's vice president of research) and his group at Mississippi State is outstanding and, as a result, drones are not the scary things they used to be. There's still work to be done. What to do about the bad actors -- a drone can carry several pounds of explosives -- hasn't been answered yet. But overall, the research continues to move in that direction.
"I think the focus has shifted more to the potential of drones," he added. "It has for us."
Hainsey said GTRA has used drones extensively for everything from assessing the conditions of perimeter fencing, runway signage, rooftops of its facilities to marketing airport property available for new businesses and industry.
"We've done all that with a simple, $500 drone," he said. "There are so many things we can use them for."
Drones may even help inspire the next generation of pilots.
"When I was a kid, the thing that got kids excited about flying was those balsa wood models," said Hainsey, a former Air Force pilot, training pilot and deputy wing commander at Columbus Air Force Base. "Now, for kids, it's all about technology. For them, drones are their first taste of flying, their introduction to aviation."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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