An open flight plan

By DAVID TORTORANO – Special to the Sun Herald


The smart money says that one day, unmanned aircraft routinely will share the National Air Space with piloted aircraft. But that’s likely years in the future. For now, getting FAA approval to fly unmanned systems is hard to come by. Yet South Mississippi has not one, but two areas where UAVs have been approved to fly.

“Without question it’s significant,” said George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation about the certificate of authorization to fly UAVs from Trent Lott International Airport, as well as a COA for Stennis Space Center.

Nationwide, there are 136 active COAs, of which 35 percent are assigned to the Department of Defense, and the rest assigned to airports, law enforcement and universities. As of January, there were 214 COAs pending nationwide, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Those involved in the UAV industry would like better access to the air space, but the FAA has a responsibility to ensure piloted aircraft are not threatened by the flights of UAVs. So for the immediate future, access will be limited. And that may give South Mississippi something of a competitive advantage.


Unmanned aircraft systems, also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles and remotely operated aircraft or vehicles, come in a variety of sizes and shapes with a variety of purposes. The largest have wingspans of an airliner, and the smallest can fit in a soldier’s backpack. Some operate autonomously, and some controlled by a pilot on the ground.

While primarily associated with military use, UAVs are also of interest to other government agencies and commercial enterprises. Uses include aerial photography, land surveying and monitoring environmental conditions. In the United States, about 50 companies, universities and government organizations are developing and producing about 155 unmanned aircraft designs.

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