Completed Programs and Partnerships

The following programs and partnerships have been completed.

Focus Area Pathfinder Program

In May 2015, the FAA announced the UAS Focus Area Pathfinder Program, an industry partnership program to develop and validate operational concepts for certification, operations, and safety beyond established or proposed policies and procedures. The three industry partners – CNN, PrecisionHawk, and BNSF Railways – focused their work on operational expansion of: visual line-of-sight operations over people; extended and beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) in rural areas; and BVLOS over right-of-ways. The goal was to develop operational concepts in manageable segments while providing the safety and validation of risk mitigation actions.

By the end of 2017, the program's three focus areas had all met the planned objectives, namely to: define the parameters to allow safe operation of drones in the National Airspace System (NAS); obtain operational approval for the Pathfinder industry stakeholder to perform routine, limited operations; and to define under what conditions and constraints similar operations may be approved for future applicants.

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UAS in the Arctic

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) required the FAA to develop a plan to designate permanent areas in the Arctic where small UA could perform research and commercial operations. In November 2012, the FAA released its Arctic Implementation Plan (PDF), signed by the Secretary of Transportation, to inform interested parties, operators, Federal agencies, and international communities of its plan to establish permanent operational areas and corridor routes in the Arctic for the operation of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS).

From 2013 to 2015, the following sUAS operations took place in the arctic:

  • Summer 2013: National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft, the ScanEagle UAS (University of Alaska), and the Data Hawk UAS (University of Colorado) flew in support of NASA's Marginal Ice Zone Observations and Ocean Experiment.
  • September 2013: ConocoPhillips began using Insitu's ScanEagle for their marine mammal and ice surveys.
  • June 2014: BP began using AeroVironment's Puma AE to survey its pipelines, roads, and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, AK, the largest oilfield in the United States.
  • June 2014: Oil spill exercise in the Beaufort Sea using AeroVironment's Puma AE.
  • 2014: The FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to Boeing/Insitu for commercial BVLOS operations in the Chukchi Sea flown on behalf of ConocoPhillips.
  • 2015: Operation Arctic Shield oil spill and search and rescue exercise
  • 2015: The FAA established 10 UAS Coastal Launch Sites, established the Arctic UAS Permanent Areas (published in the Alaska Supplement, an FAA Airport Facilities Directory now called FAA Chart Supplements), and developed and published communication procedures for flying drones BVLOS in the Arctic.

For more information:

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UAS Detection Initiative

Pilots regularly report seeing drones in flight, which is a serious safety concern for the FAA. In October 2015, the FAA entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) with CACI International to evaluate their technology's ability to detect and identify small drones in the vicinity of airports. A team of engineers from the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security, and CACI conducted 141 test operations over five days at the Atlantic City Airport from January to February 2016.

In May 2016, the FAA expanded its detection initiative by signing CRDAs with Gryphon Sensors, Liteye Systems Inc., and Sensofusion to evaluate the companies’ prototype drone detection systems.

The FAA also began partnering with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in May 2016 to evaluate a different drone detection technology.

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Last updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2022