By Carol Vaughn —
Regulations for aircraft operations at the Accomack County Airport were updated this month to include rules and standards related to unmanned aircraft systems.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisor voted at the April 21 meeting to approve the changes.
“The revisions were made to include regulations and standards for unmanned aircraft systems, referred to as UAS, since these types of operations are just starting to emerge in general aviation airports, and also to address the process for off-airport access,” said Barbara Haxter, airport manager.
The revisions are consistent with current rules, regulations, and minimum standards giving guidance about UAS operations, she said, noting Accomack’s airport “would be one of the first airports in Virginia to support commercial UAS operations.”
The impact of UAS operations could affect the airport’s other users, Haxter said, adding a discussion with local pilots had been planned, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions, to discuss operational and safety aspects of UAS activities at the airport.
“Our local pilots do have concerns about what safety measures are in place to protect them,” Haxter said.
The FAA Flight Standard District Office, the Virginia Department of Aviation, and the UAS company had committed to participate in the discussion, which Haxter said will be rescheduled once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“It would be advisable to have this discussion with the local pilots prior to any UAS operations taking place,” Haxter said.
Ron Wolff, board of supervisors chairman, said he attended a UAS demonstration at the airport recently “and almost at the same time, a pilot in his aircraft took off. There was radio communication; there didn’t appear to be any kind of discrepancies or problems between the two that were flying…One was lower, one was higher — but they were both operating within the same confines of the airfield. That’s the way things should take place.”
Haxter said, “I think communication is the key. I think most of the users at the airport are open to all forms of aviation, so I think that having a dialogue gives them a better understanding of what the UAS operator does in his normal routine that ensures that communication between aircraft, manned and unmanned.”
Supervisor Robert Crockett said of the board’s discussion, “Basically, what we are doing tonight is we are reviewing changes or additional rules and regulations that the FAA requires to allow us to entertain the possibility of bringing a (UAS) business into the airport….To do that, we need to do this.”
Supervisor Donald Hart, Jr., said the local pilots’ group did not see the proposed regulations until the day of the board meeting, but said a group of pilots had reviewed them earlier in the day and said the rules did not affect them — and called Wolff to say that.
“What I’d like to say is that, from this point forward, is any rules or regulations at the airport should at least be, as a courtesy, for transparency purposes, just given to the pilots or their association, just for them to look at…and see if they have any comment,” Hart said.
American Rescue Plan
Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason asked the board of supervisors to schedule a town-hall-style meeting to get public input on how the county should use federal funds coming to it through the American Rescue Plan.
Nonprofit organizations have been inquiring of Mason about the county’s plans for the funds and want the chance to propose projects to the board, he said.
Guidelines for using the funds had not yet been released, but were expected by the end of April.
The board voted to authorize Mason to schedule the meeting Wednesday, June 2, at 6 p.m. at Metompkin Elementary School.
Federal funds sought for 9-1-1 project
Federal funds are being sought for the Eastern Shore 9-1-1 radio communication infrastructure replacement project, according to Mason.
The project was submitted for consideration for funding through a Federal Community Projects Grant, which Mason said is a new mechanism for funding community projects with federal money.
“It’s basically funding that is being made available in the House, in Congress, that will allow Congress members to present up to 10 projects to (the) appropriations (committee) for possible funding,” he said.
After a group from the Eastern Shore discussed potential projects for funding with Rep. Elaine Luria in a recent Zoom meeting, “the regional project that Accomack and Northampton agreed on as the frontrunner for this funding was this,” Mason said.
The project has letters of support from local volunteer fire and rescue companies throughout the Shore and the sheriffs of both counties, he said, adding, “I think that regional aspect of the project makes it a very appealing project.”
The total project cost, which is the amount being sought for grant funding, is $8.2 million, according to Mason.
Free public Wi-Fi hot spots being used
Supervisor Jackie Phillips during the supervisors’ comment period said the public is making use of Wi-Fi hot spots placed in both Accomack and Northampton counties by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority.
“They are definitely being utilized,” he said.
One of the newest hotspots installed, at Bailey Road Apartments near Greenbush, recently accounted for more than 50% of total usage, both traffic- and volume-wise, according to Phillips.
Other hotspots with high volume include Pettit Trailer Park in Mappsville, Johnson Court near Nelsonia, Dreamland 2 in Hopeton, and Captains Cove Marina Club House in Greenbackville.
“It’s great they are being used,” Phillips said.
A complete list of free public Wi-Fi hotspots and their locations on the Shore is at https://esvba.com/wifi-hot-spots/