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Hawaii's Department of Transportation buys $75,000 drone they can't fly

5:21 PM, Apr 10, 2012   |    comments
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By Keoki Kerr

Honolulu (KHNL/CNN) - Hawaii's Department of Transportation is admitting it made a mistake with a $75,000 purchase.

The money was spent on an unmanned drone aircraft meant to monitor Honolulu Harbor.

The problem is, it's not allowed to fly over the harbor.

In 2006 the State Department of Transportation was awarded a $1.4 million harbor security grant from the federal government to install high-tech security measures at Honolulu Harbor where more than 90 percent of the state's merchandise arrives every year.

About $75,000 of that money went to purchase an unmanned aerial vehicle known as a UAV or drone, which arrived last June.

It's supposed to be used to transmit aerial video of harbor facilities, but the craft has never left the ground and it still sits in a state DOT office nine months later.

"Unfortunately, we never checked with the FAA if we could fly a UAV around Honolulu Harbor. And we cannot," said Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Meisenzahl says the state cannot fly the drone at the harbor because it's too close to Honolulu International Airport.

"It's an international airport. So there's a restricted area around the airport and Honolulu Harbor is part of that restricted area," said Meisenzahl.

The state DOT Harbors Division hopes to enter a partnership with another state or county agency that could use the drone for surveillance.

"We're not going to let this sit here in a room for the next twenty years. We're going to do something about this. We're going to rectify this and that's something we're definitely working on in the Harbors Division," said Meisenzahl.

Or, he says, in the worst case scenario the state could sell the drone to another agency.

"We might have to sell it. And if that's the case, we'd be able to recoup the cost,' he said.

While Meisenzahl admits the state made a $75,000 mistake with the drone, he says the rest of the federal grant went to install video surveillance of Honolulu Harbor, Kewalo Basin, and Kalaeloa Harbor.

"That $1.4 million, I would argue, the vast majority of it, has been well spent and has been put to great use every day," said Meisenzahl.


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