For Immediate Release
April 30, 2019
Contact: Marcia Alexander Adams or Paul Takemoto
Phone: (202) 267-3883
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognizes that unmanned aircraft systems –“UAS,” or more popularly, “drones”—are the fastest growing segment of aviation. There are more than 350,000 commercial drones operating in the United States, going places and doing things that would otherwise be dangerous for people or other vehicles.
The FAA is dedicated to safely and fully integrating this innovative technology into America’s national airspace. The agency and its government and industry partners have two key initiatives underway that will help make the routine use of drones a reality.
The UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP)
Since it began in 2017, the UAS Integration Pilot Program has brought state, local, and tribal governments together with private sector entities, such as drone operators and manufacturers, to accelerate safe drone integration. The overarching goal of the IPP is to assist the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA in crafting new rules, policy and guidance that support more complex low-altitude operations. Specifically, the program is:
- Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to drone integration
- Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
- Addressing security and privacy risks
- Accelerating the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.
In November 2017, the FAA solicited applications from state, local and tribal governments. Those entities enlisted the help of industry, academic and other government partners to support their proposed operations. From the 149 applications submitted, the agency selected 10 Lead Participants. They will conduct operations through the program’s official end in November 2020.
The IPP has been very successful to date. The state, local and tribal governments are all working closely with their industry partners to tackle challenges to safe and secure integration, including night operations, flights over people, operations 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. Areas that could benefit from the program include commerce, photography, emergency management, agricultural support and infrastructure inspections.
One of the IPP’s objectives is to determine community acceptance of drones operating above their neighborhoods. Many of the lead participants are conducting surveys to gauge community sentiment, and all of them have engaged their communities through public meetings, briefings, their websites and traditional and social media. Overall, the response has been generally positive. For example:
- The Chula Vista (CA) Police Department is successfully using drones to give first responders an early assessment of the scene when they respond to 911 calls.
- Matternet is routinely using drones to deliver medical lab material from one building to another across the large WakeMed medical complex in Raleigh, part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s IPP program
- The North Carolina and North Dakota Departments of Transportation have used drones to survey damage in the wake of natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding.
- The University of Alaska-Fairbanks discovered a previously undetected methane pipeline leak.
Most of the technical data the Lead Participants have collected in their IPP flights relates to how well their drones actually perform compared to original plans. The data includes information about flight paths, communications connectivity, and any deviations from original plans. Once the participants collect and report the data, the FAA will be able to see how well their risk mitigations worked. This information is vital to developing future FAA regulations and guidance on safe and secure drone use.
The UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program (UPP)
As the demand for drone use below 400 feet increases, the FAA, along with NASA and industry partners, a UAS traffic management (UTM) infrastructure will be needed to accommodate these operations safely and efficiently.
The FAA will use UTM to support flight operations, primarily for small (less than 55 pounds) drones operating in low-altitude airspace. UTM relies on industry’s ability to supply services under FAA’s regulatory authority where these services do not currently exist. It is a community based traffic management system, where operators are responsible for the coordination, execution and management of operations, with rules of the road established by the FAA.
The UAS Traffic Management Pilot Program was established in April 2017 as an important component for identifying an initial set of industry and FAA capabilities required to support low-altitude drone operations. The UPP will help identify services, roles and responsibilities, information architecture, data exchange protocols, software functions, and performance requirements for managing low-altitude drone operations without intervention by air traffic control facilities.
On January 14, 2019, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the FAA's selection of three FAA UAS Test Sites to partner with the agency in the UPP:
The results from the UPP will provide a proof of concept for UTM capabilities currently in research and development, and will provide the basis for initial deployment of UTM capabilities. Ultimately, the FAA will define the UTM regulatory framework that third-party providers will operate within.