A North Idaho operator of unmanned aircraft has acquired an Ada County 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, or Adavso, of Star. 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 this week.
The companies have worked as business partners on some ventures. Last January, Adavso was the 13th business in the country, and the first agriculture-based one, to receive an exemption from current rules by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate commercial, unmanned aircraft. Adavso founder Steve Edgar, a fighter pilot who operated wartime drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, partnered with Empire Aerospace to form Empire Unmanned.
Empire Unmanned has focused on agriculture, mining, surveying and engineering, said Brad Ward, its president.
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 is expanding this year into California, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada and Nebraska, 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.
The Idaho Statesman and Bloomberg News contributed.