In early May, the North Carolina State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education announced the hiring of Kyle T. Snyder as the first permanent director for the NextGen Air Transportation Center. Snyder comes to the Center from Middle Tennessee State University, where he launched and managed that school’s Unmanned Air Systems program. EC|PCEDC E-News caught up with Snyder earlier this month.
Describe the NextGen Air Transportation Center
The NextGen Air Transportation Center (NGAT) started in 2008 to help prepare North Carolina for airspace modernization. A non-profit, university-research center, it is located at the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University. Initially, the Center focused on developing and evaluating improvements to air traffic control, airspace management, airports and aerospace systems capacity and flight safety. A few years ago, the N.C. Military Foundation and N.C. Department of Transportation began researching the remotely-piloted aircraft industry (RPA) and N.C. DOT Aviation leadership said, “I think we can do more with our airspace to support this industry.” Soon after that, Gov. Beverly Perdue had been briefed on all the activity and she said, “Let’s do this. We need a RPA program for the state.” This became a new charter for the NGAT Center.
How did you come to be the Center’s first permanent director?
Meanwhile, I’m over at Middle Tennessee State University, where I had launched the school’s unmanned air systems program. Previously, I had worked for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), supporting the industry from a global perspective. I had met with and was supporting the team that was doing the homework for evaluating North Carolina’s RPA potential with available airspace, industry and research capabilities. I’m from North Carolina originally and the chance to come home was something that was extremely attractive to my family. About this time last year, I told my wife, “They’re going to ask me who they should hire.” We were both ready to go.
What do you find appealing about your job?
Heading up the NGAT Center helps light the entrepreneurial fire in me. Industry is constantly looking for opportunities to provide new services and find an economical edge. The university environment provides the ideal setting to conduct research while evaluating the “art of the possible.” If you think about it, RPA technology and potential benefits are still in their infancy. There is no better place than a university to coordinate industry movers, with research leaders and student energy to reshape the future. I like working with the businesses across the state that will develop the RPA technology, along with the state agencies and potential commercial users that will benefit from it – the Department of Emergency Management, Public Safety, N.C. Wildlife, Department of Transportation, to name a few.
Describe some of the RPA applications that will benefit North Carolina.
This is the number one application for showcasing the benefits of affordable RPA technology. We are about to launch a project in Hyde County that will send RPAs above the farm fields to assess the health of the crops. This application will help identify any invasive species or crop stress from lack of water or nitrogen. In the near future, farmers could contract with a service provider for this information, or they could potentially purchase a product for their own use.
Law Enforcement/Emergency Response
RPA applications can aide search and rescue missions, post-disaster response, when law enforcement is looking for a stranded hiker, someone lost in the water after a boating accident or a child that has wandered from the home. Compared to current manned-aircraft support, RPA support for accident investigations, crime scene management and large area surveillance is affordable and easy to use.
The RPA industry also may benefit N.C. Wildlife officials with applications to help with the surveillance of species, tracking wildlife populations and monitoring bird migration routes to help maintain and protect them.
What are North Carolina’s strengths in the RPA industry?
Thanks to the Wright brothers, the history of aviation in North Carolina gives us a big boost. Beyond that, our state has much strength. North Carolina has progressive leadership who has told us to “go for it” with regard to building an RPA industry. There are opportunities with existing businesses that complement the aviation industry, along with the potential to grow new businesses and create more jobs.
And there is a collaborative spirit in North Carolina between the NGAT Center, the Department of Commerce, the aviation industry and higher education institutes. Of course, North Carolina State University plays a key role. And in northeastern North Carolina, Elizabeth City State University and College of the Albemarle are very excited about what we are doing.
The military establishment, including the Coast Guard, in North Carolina is very strong and may also provide a talent pool of experienced RPA professionals to support the emerging commercial and civilian markets.
Every state in the union is interested in seeing how they can get a piece of this industry, and North Carolina has a lot of the needed infrastructure in place.
Finally, what is the human potential for RPA technology?
That’s really what this industry is all about, helping understaffed and under-sourced agencies utilize their potential. Public safety and emergency response agencies, in particular, operate on tight budgets. The more affordable we make the technology, the more we can integrate the applications that will help them to their jobs efficiently and effectively.