The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has approved authorization for dozens of drones to operate in support of response and recovery efforts in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which passed through the state early this week.
The FAA said Friday that it has issued 132 airspace authorizations — many of them to government agencies, including the Air National Guard, which was conducting aerial surveys of disaster-stricken areas, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which was mapping some of the hardest-hit areas for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Jacksonville Electric Authority deployed drones to assess damage and ensure the safety of its crews, the FAA said, and Florida Power and Light used 49 drone teams on surveying missions.
Private operators such as Airbus Aerial, the commercial drone services division of Airbus, operated drones — also known by several other names, including unmanned aircraft systems — to help insurance companies quickly gather information on homeowners’ claims, the FAA said.
The FAA said that its ability to quickly authorize use of the drones was “critical, because most local airports were either closed or dedicated to emergency relief flights, and the fuel supply was low.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the response to Hurricane Irma “will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country.”
He added, “Essentially, every drone that flew meant that a traditional aircraft was not putting an additional strain on an already fragile system.”
The FAA also is sending a mobile air traffic control tower to Key West. Earlier, the agency sent another mobile tower to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.