The Department of the Interior saved $14.8 million in 2018 as it expanded its fleet of unmanned aircraft systems to support operations across the U.S. The department released its UAS Program 2018 Use Report Monday that details the agency’s spending and aircraft use during the year.
The agency conducted 10,342 unmanned aircraft flights in 2018, two times higher than the 2017 figure. Use of drones for natural disaster response accounted for the majority of missions in 2018. The number is expected to continue to rise as first responders find new opportunities for the aircraft to assist in their missions, Mark Bathrick, director of DOI Office of Aviation Services, told Nextgov.
Interior uses 530 drones to survey federal lands, inspect infrastructure, track wildlife and assist disaster response efforts. The agency plans to increase its aerial drone fleet to nearly 800 systems by 2020. Officials also plan to increase investment in-house capabilities with 205 new drone pilots added to the agency’s certified operators.