DOT Secretary Chao announces UAS IPP selectees
Ten state, tribal or local governments have been tapped to help expand the flight envelope of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.
The selections for the UAS Integration Pilot Program are Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; the city of San Diego; Virginia Tech – the Center for Innovative Technology; the Kansas Department of Transportation; the Lee County Mosquito Control District of Ft. Myers, Florida; the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority of Tennessee; the North Carolina Department of Transportation; the North Dakota Department of Transportation; the city of Reno, Nevada; and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao said the DOT had received 150 applications when the program was announced last year, which was tough to whittle down to 10. However, at a ceremony at the DOT headquarters, she said, “there are no losers in today’s announcement,” and she has directed the FAA to explore ways of working with the other interested communities.
She noted that as of May 4, the U.S. has 1.1 million registered drones and more than 90,000 registered operators, a number that is growing rapidly.
“But we’ve got to create a path forward to the safe integration of drones if our country is going to remain a global aviation leader and reap the safety and economic benefits drones have to offer,” she said.
"Instead of a dictate from Washington, this program takes a different approach," she said, by allowing “communities to test drones in ways they are comfortable with,” at different times of day, and “across a variety of locations.”
The pilot program is intended to let governments and their partners to push past the limitations of the small UAS rule, which doesn’t allow night flights, flights over people or flights beyond line of sight. The ten areas, and others who pursue similar work, can conduct expanded operations and then give feedback to the FAA on future rules and practices.
“The data the participants will collect on UAS operations will help shape a national UAS policy framework, including for a UAS traffic management system and expanded UAS operations such as flying over people or beyond line of sight,” AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne said about the program. “We look forward to seeing the results of their work and the contributions these groups will make to keeping our skies safe.”
For instance, Kansas officials said they would test a statewide unmanned traffic management system, powered by the LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability), an automated flight authorization system that the FAA is rolling out across the country.
Other areas will try different options. Reno, with its partner, the drone delivery company Flirty, will test whether medical equipment like defibrillators can be carried quickly to people who need them.
The Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority will continue working with drones to inspect their airport and aid in search and rescue operations in rural parts of the county, among others. And the mosquito control district in Florida wants to use drones to help find mosquito larvae before they become adults.