drone pilot program

Everything you need to know about the FAA’s drone pilot program, including Uber, Google and lots of drone delivery

The Federal Aviation Administration today announced the 10 state, local and tribal governments it has selected to be a part of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. — and it is set to involve high-profile companies including Google and Uber.

The drone pilot program pairs governments up with private companies to test types of drone flights that are currently banned in the U.S., including flying drones at night, flying over people and package delivery.

The FAA’s drone pilot program, formally called the UAS Integration Pilot Program, was announced in October by U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. Originally, only five sites were going to be chosen, though ultimately 10 were picked. About 150 sites applied to be a part of the program, according to the FAA.

The 10 locations selected for the FAA’s drone pilot program 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.

That data is intended to help the U.S. government craft new rules around more complex drone operations.

A handful of high-profile drone companies will take part in the pilot programs.

Alphabet (formerly known as Google)’s Project Wing will partner with the Virginia site, where it had already been testing drone delivery by way of Chipotle burritos.

“We’re grateful to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration for providing us with the opportunity to conduct our most advanced testing to-date on US soil,” James Ryan Burgess, co-lead of Project Wing, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with communities in Virginia to better understand how our drone delivery could be useful in their everyday lives.”

Other drone delivery companies expected to take part include  Flytrex, an Iceland-based food delivery company, Zipline, a startup that is currently using drones to deliver blood to hospitals in Africa, Matternet, which also delivers medical supplies to developing countries, and Flirtey, which had been marketing itself with high-profile drone delivery partnerships with companies such as Domino’s Pizza.

Other companies involved in the new drone test program include AirMap, which is building a software to help manage drones flying through complicated airspace. AirMap is actually involved in six of the 10 test sites. And Uber is working with the San Diego test site to  create drone landing stations and ports, according to a fact sheet released by DOT.

Industry experts say the drone pilot program is a step in the right direction for continuing to further integrate drones in U.S. airspace.

“The participants selected for the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program represent a commitment by governments at all levels to safely and efficiently integrate UAS into the national airspace,” Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI said in a prepared statement. “As more and more businesses and public institutions embrace UAS, it is more important than ever to have a process in which states, municipalities and tribal governments can provide input on federal policy without infringing on the U.S. government’s jurisdiction over the airspace.”

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