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Hayden company buys southern Idaho drone operator

A Hayden-based operator of unmanned aircraft has acquired a southern Idaho company that also has been a pioneer in the use of drones.

Empire Unmanned, which flies its vehicles for agricultural, mining and other jobs, has purchased Advanced Aviation Solutions – ADAVSO – of Star, Idaho. The company will have 14 employees in all.

The deal allows Empire Unmanned, an affiliate of Empire Airlines and Empire Aerospace, to provide a wider range of services across a broader swath of the western U.S., the company said Wednesday.

The companies, which have worked as business partners on some ventures, were among the first to receive an exemption from the federal Aviation Administration to operate commercial, unmanned aircraft.

ADAVSO has been active in research and development as well as inspections of cell towers, bridges and other structures, while Empire Unmanned has focused on agriculture, mining, surveying and engineering, said Brad Ward, president of Empire Unmanned.

Empire operates eight fixed-wing and six rotor aircraft under commercial and government contracts. The jobs include crop surveys, mining maps, forest assessments, firefighting assistance, and university and defense contractor research.

The company has operated in Idaho, Washington, Montana, Utah and Oregon, and it’s expanding this year into California, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada and Nebraska, President Brad Ward said. Empire had more than 1,400 flights on 360 jobs last year, he said.

“We exceeded our own expectations on how far we would be in that first year,” Ward said. “It’s been an amazing leap from just a little while ago. Not more than a year ago we were excited about making the first couple pictures of farmers’ fields, and now we’re mapping the strangest contours you’ve ever seen in an open-pit mine.”

The aircraft fly below 400 feet and stay within a half-mile of the pilot on the ground.

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