UAS Integration Pilot Program Proposals Envision Medical Supply Delivery and Precise 3D Mapping
The final deadline has passed for applications to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. Since the program was officially launched on November 8, 2017, the FAA has received over 200 lead applications from government entities and over 2800 notices from interested parties hoping to participate in the program.
As detailed below, the proposals focus on an array of use cases, including the transportation of blood and medical supplies; counter UAS testing; emergency management; cross-border integration; and precise 3D mapping.
The UAS Integration Pilot Program
On October 25, 2017, President Trump and DOT Secretary Elaine Chao announced the creation of a pilot program intended to advance the integration of UAS into the national airspace.
As we have noted, the program has four main objectives:
(1) Accelerate the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace by testing and validating new concepts of beyond visual line of sight operations in a controlled environment, focusing on detect and avoid technologies, command and control links, navigation, weather and human factors;
(2) Address ongoing security and safety concerns associated with operating UAS close to people and critical infrastructure and ensure effective communication with law enforcement;
(3) Promote innovation in the UAS industry; and
(4) Identify the most effective models of balancing local and national interests in UAS integration.
Although only State, local, and tribal governments could apply to the program, private-sector stakeholders can participate by partnering with government applicants. Formal applications were due on January 4, 2018.
In evaluating proposals, the FAA will consider a number of factors, including: economic, geographic, and climatic diversity; the diversity of UAS operations; and the involvement of commercial entities. The FAA will also consider the commitment of the governments and UAS operators to achieve certain policy objectives.
The 200+ proposed partnerships focus on a wide array of use cases, including, for example:
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) would lead a team of private companies proposing to set up a network of distribution centers that would use UAS to deliver blood and medical supplies to hospitals in the State.
- New York would test for UAS detection, counter UAS measures, environmental conservation, emergency management, land surveillance, railroad inspection, and public safety. New York would also partner with neighboring Massachusetts to test cross-border integration, including package delivery and transportation inspection.
- Bluefield, West Virginia proposes to deliver large parcels and test LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to develop a 3D map of the area. The city claims that the technology is accurate enough to detect cracks in street pavement.
The FAA will select a minimum of five partnerships. There is no upper limit on the number of applicants that may be accepted, and Secretary Chao has said that they are aiming for ten participants in the first wave of awards—implying that there may well be more than one wave. Selected participants will enter a Memorandum of Agreement with the FAA that will govern its tests, which must be finalized by May 7, 2018.