Skip to main content

EGLE's drone program takes off

Man flying drone at Sleepy Hollow State ParkWhen the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS)—commonly referred to as “drones”—Program got off the ground in 2017, it had one pilot and one drone. Today, EGLE has 26 staffers in various divisions who are part of the sUAS Program.

Drones are being used in a variety of ways throughout EGLE, including:

  • Inspecting landfill cover. 
  • Evaluating sites for demolition/reconstruction. 
  • Using infra-red technology to look for groundwater seeps/springs flowing into lakes and streams, which are then sampled for potential Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination.
  • Mapping for sinkhole and oil and gas production facilities.
  • Evaluating sediment erosion issues from oil and gas locations.
  • Videotaping large areas, such as construction sites and lakes, that are used for training and video stories.

Drone projects at EGLE have resulted in a high resolution aerial base map of a site; a vegetative assessment map using a Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) algorithm; panoramic, 360-degree rotating bird's-eye views of current site conditions; volume calculations of debris piles; and photo and video assessment of hard-to-reach sites of interest.

"There is more to operating drones than just getting off the ground and taking some pictures," notes Art Ostaszewski, who coordinates the EGLE sUAS Program. "Pilots that have come through the EGLE program recognize that flying drones for EGLE is really taking an aerial reconnaissance technology approach to their field work."

EGLE's sUAS Training Program consists of two parts: the first part consists of getting certified as an Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sUAS-Remote Pilot; the second part involves completing EGLE's Pilot Program, which covers mission planning, understanding EGLE's sUAS Policy, as well as federal and state sUAS-Drone laws and demonstrating actual flying abilities on a trainer and beginner field drones. The second part concludes with a demonstration/evaluation flight in the field under actual mission conditions.

Of the 26 EGLE staffers’ part of the sUAS Program, 12 are "pilot-in-command (PIC)," four are FAA certified and awaiting their PIC demonstration/evaluation, and 10 are approved to study to become FAA certified. Pilots are from all divisions; half are based in districts, and half are Lansing-based.

In his role as EGLE’s sUAS Program Coordinator, Ostaszewski keeps inventory of the number of pilots, drones, and missions that EGLE conducts. He also coordinates with sUAS Program counterparts in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Michigan State Police.

"I work directly with EGLE pilots to keep abreast of FAA notifications, make sure they have all the cables, batteries, post-processing software they need, and to ensure that EGLE, as a whole, is flying safely, legally, and ethically, taking our field work to new heights."

Take a short survey and let us know what you think about MI Environment.