Kansas’ new aviation director told Wichita Aero Club members Thursday that his agency aims to increase access to air ambulance service, and that he would like to see collaboration between people in traditional aviation and those involved in the drone industry.
Merrill Atwater was the club’s speaker at its monthly luncheon at the Doubletree by Hilton Wichita Airport.
Atwater is two months into his post as director of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s aviation division. He opened his speech talking about his great-grandfather, President Dwight Eisenhower, and Eisenhower’s connection to and influence on aviation.
Eisenhower, he said, had a pilot’s license but never had a driver’s license. Eisenhower also signed into law the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which created the Federal Aviation Agency, later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration.
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Atwater said the aviation industry accounts for 10 percent of the Kansas economy and has an annual economic impact of $13.5 billion.
“Your industry produces 10 percent of the state’s economy … you understand that’s extremely important,” he said.
He said one of his goals is to improve Kansas residents’ access to an air ambulance. Atwater said the goal would be to get 94 percent of the state access to an air ambulance within 30 minutes.
That can be done, he said, through the Kansas Airport Improvement Program, which provides matching grants to the state’s 138 public use airports for improvements such as paved runways, equipment and buildings. Since KAIP’s inception, he said, $90 million in grants have been distributed to those airports.
Atwater said unmanned aerial systems, or drones, are going to figure more prominently in the state’s aviation system going forward. It’s important, he said, for the traditional aviation industry to be involved in the discussions about the integration of drones in Kansas.
“We need everybody in this room to participate with us,” he said.