DOI UAS have conducted nearly 1,800 flights supporting wildland fire operations this year.
As the incredibly intense and destructive 2020 wildfire season begins to wind down, HAI got the chance to ask Mark Bathrick, the director of the Office of Aviation Services for the US Department of the Interior (DOI), how the season went and what next year may hold.
ROTOR: This fire season was certainly one for the books. How were DOI helicopters and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) assets used and how did they make the most impact?
Bathrick: DOI is committed to deploying all resources and technology to protect human health and safety. The department continues using the drone fleet during wildfire response operations. So far this year and despite challenges associated with COVID-19, DOI has conducted fuel management treatments on nearly 1 million acres, putting us ahead of our 10-year average.
Commercially contracted helicopters continued to play a vital role in wildland firefighting in 2020. A critical part of the annual preparation for the fire year is the inspection of aircraft for proper equipment and conditions and the training and evaluation of pilots prior to the contract start.
Working closely with our industry and interagency partners, the Office of Aviation Services (OAS) developed COVID-19 sensitive travel and inspection risk assessments and protocols that enabled us to exceed fire-year readiness requirements while also mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to our employees, commercial vendors, interagency partners, and the communities we visited to perform the inspections.
Our UAS continue to be used across the country in support of wildland fire operations.