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FAA grounds state agency's toy helicopter

BILOXI — A toy helicopter the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources planned to use to fly over marshland to monitor invasive species has been grounded.

The Federal Aviation Administration said its regulations for a toy helicopter under such circumstances are the same as those for a military predator drone.

MDMR’s project manager Mike Pursley told The Clarion-Ledger the plan was to use the toy helicopter rather than renting an airplane.

“We got the idea that we could use a remote control helicopter to find invasive plants in places where it became impossible to go by boat,” said Pursley. “It would help find invasive hogs, plants — and it could help documenting day-to-day effects of coastline erosion.”

Pursley said meeting FAA rules proved difficult.

He said although the agency has a permit to fly the helicopter in a well-defined 50-acre plot of land, the local aircraft tower required two days’ notice. He said regulations also required two people to man the flight, with both the pilot and official observer having medical airworthiness certificates and pilots’ licenses.

Since most unmanned aerial vehicles have been used for military purposes, there aren’t specialized guidelines outside that arena yet. In essence, those who operate drones must be qualified to operate full-sized aircraft.

“It’s not feasible right now. We don’t have the manpower to jump through those hoops,” Pursley said.

Pursley believes that by 2015, when drones will be cleared for civilian use, there will be more reasonable regulations.

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