FAA drone testing program takes off in 10 cities

The agency announced 10 states that will participate in the the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is moving forward with its plans to accelerate drone testing in the US -- with help from technology companies including Alphabet, FedEx and Intel.

The agency announced 10 states that will participate in the the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, an effort that aims to study the potential uses of drones in agriculture, commerce, emergency management, and human transportation.

The 10 pilot winners include the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, in Durant, Oklahoma; the City of San Diego, California; the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, in Herndon, Virginia; the Kansas Department of Transportation; the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Fort Meyers, Florida; the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority; the North Carolina Department of Transportation; the North Dakota Department of Transportation; the City of Reno, Nevada; and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

First announced last October, the UAS program aims to partner the FAA with local, state and tribal governments, along with private sector technology companies, to explore the integration of drone operations across industries. The program will also address public safety and security risks that go along with bringing drones into the national airspace.

Over the next two years, the selected cities and organizations will collect drone data involving night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot's line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft.

There are a bevy of independent drone companies involved in the pilot, including Fortem, AirMap, Zipline and Matternet. As for the big names, FedEx is working with Intel and the Memphis airport to use drones for the delivery of aircraft parts and to perform safety inspections, and Alphabet's Project Wing drones will take flight in Virginia to test drone deliveries to consumers.

The US Department of Transportation and the FAA will use the collected data to help craft new rules that expand the use cases for low-altitude operations and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

The Trump administration, the DOT and the FAA expect the drone industry will create up to 100,000 jobs for citizens, and claim the potential economic benefit of UAVs to the US could equal up to $82 billion "in less than a decade."

"We know our diverse new partners will help us address a broad range of complex drone integration challenges, " said FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. "The fields that could see immediate opportunities from the program include commerce, photography, emergency management, public safety, precision agriculture and infrastructure inspections."

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