NCDOT Among 10 Drone Programs Selected For FAA Testing

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Accompanied by technology innovators and government leaders from across the nation, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao on Wednesday announced the 10 state, local and tribal governments who will conduct flight tests as part of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.

“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.”

The primary focus of NCDOT’s proposal is working with global drone delivery companies, such as Zipline, Matternet and Flytrex, to set up a network of medical distribution centers that can use drones to make medical deliveries. These companies currently operate overseas.

Blood and other supplies currently travel by courier to hospitals and testing facilities. With drones, medical providers would get the test results and supplies they need much faster.

NCDOT has also partnered with existing UAS software companies like AirMap and Raleigh-based PrecisionHawk to develop Unmanned Traffic Management systems that track drones as they fly.

“North Carolina has always been on the forefront of aviation innovation and now is a national leader in drone safety education and use,” said Chief Deputy Secretary David Howard, who attended the announcement on behalf of NCDOT. “Being selected for this program will allow us to learn more about how drones can safely be used in new ways to help our citizens.”

The UAS Integration Pilot Program is an opportunity for state, local and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe UAS integration.

The program is expected to foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration, and provide actionable information to the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding the expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.

The 10 programs are:

  • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma
  • City of San Diego, California
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Herndon, Virginia
  • Kansas Department of Transportation
  • Lee County Mosquito Control District
  • Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation
  • City of Reno, Nevada
  • University of Alaska-Fairbanks

Over the next two and a half years, the selectees 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. The data collected from these operations will help the US DOT and FAA craft new enabling rules that 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, and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

First announced last October, this White House initiative partners the FAA with local, state and tribal governments, which then partner with private industry to safely explore the further integration of drone operations. The program will help tackle the most significant challenges to integrating drones into the national airspace and will reduce risks to public safety and security. According to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, the potential economic benefit of drones in the nation’s air space, in less than a decade, is estimated at $82 billion and could create 100,000 jobs.

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