10 Govs Partnering with FAA on Drone Integration in U.S. Airspace

City, county, tribal, state agency and academic partners have had their proposals accepted by DOT to work with FAA and test various public and private UAS uses in a new federal drone integration initiative.

The U.S. Department of Transportation selected 10 state, local and tribal governments to participate in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, a White House initiative that includes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) partnering with governments and their private sector participants to explore drone integration into U.S. airspace.

The drone integration studies will further explore how to reduce risks to public safety and security with potential uses of the technology. The rapidly evolving drone industry, according to DOT, has a potential economic benefit estimated at $82 billion over 10 years.

It could create 100,000 jobs and opportunities in commerce, photography, emergency management, public safety, agriculture and infrastructure inspections.

Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The 10 participants selected from 149 proposals are:

  • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma
  • City of San Diego, California
  • Virginia Tech - Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, Virginia
  • Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, Kansas
  • Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Myers, Florida
  • Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, Tennessee
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, North Dakota
  • City of Reno, Nevada
  • University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

According to NextGov, the public-private partnerships will test various uses of drones in conditions otherwise not allowed by current FAA policy.

The next step is for FAA to work with the selected government partners to refine their drone operational concepts through Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs). The MOAs will establish the parties’ responsibilities, describe specific concepts of operations they will undertake, establish any data-sharing requirements and specify that no federal funds will be spent on the program.

Over two and a half years over the participants will collect drone data involving several aspects of drone flight often limited by law, including local drone ordinances, such as:

  • Night operations
  • Flights over people and beyond the pilot’s line of sight
  • Package delivery
  • Detect-and-avoid technologies
  • The reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft

USDOT and FAA intend to use the data to craft new rules that allow further drone integration for both public and commercial uses, which could:

  • Allow more complex low-altitude operations
  • Identify ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS integration
  • Improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Address security and privacy risks
  • Accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.