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DOT Selects Ten IPP Winners, Announces Two UAS Rulemakings Sent to OMB

DOT Selects Ten IPP Winners, Announces Two UAS Rulemakings Sent to OMB

This article is co-authored by Sara Baxenberg, Anna Gomez, Katy Ross, and Josh Turner

May 9, 2018

In a big day for the UAS industry, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the first round of winning participants in its highly-anticipated unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP).  DOT also announced that two rulemaking publications have been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval: the long-awaited flights over people notice of proposed rulemaking and the FAA’s previously-announced advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on safe and secure UAS operations.

The following state, local, and tribal government entities were selected as the ten IPP winners from a pool of roughly 150 applicants:

  • Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, OK
  • City of San Diego, CA
  • Virginia Tech - Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, VA
  • Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, KS
  • Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Myers, FL
  • Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, TN
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, NC
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, ND
  • City of Reno, NV
  • University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK

Chosen to help realize the White House’s vision for the IPP as a “catalyst for . . . innovation and ingenuity,” the ten winners—along with their public and commercial partners—will be able to conduct advanced UAS operations that will benefit their communities while helping the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with its mission to integrate UAS into the national airspace.  DOT’s press release about today’s event is available here.

The Pilot Program

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao first announced the creation of the IPP in October 2017 consistent with a Presidential Memorandum directing her to create the program.  The Memorandum identified four main objectives for the program:

  1. accelerating 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. addressing ongoing security and safety concerns associated with operating UAS close to people and critical infrastructure and ensure effective communication with law enforcement;
  3. promoting innovation in the UAS industry; and
  4. identifying the most effective models of balancing local and national interests in UAS integration. 

In the Federal Register publication describing the program criteria, DOT further explained that the FAA will use the data provided by the IPP “to advance the overall state of the industry, including the development of enabling regulations that will increase other types of routine drone operations, such as: (1) Beyond line-of-sight flights . . . ; (2) operations over human beings . . . ; and (3) package delivery . . . [.].”  Consistent with this direction, the FAA has indicated that it will rely on the IPP to provide data and insight on expanded UAS operations that will help the agency continue its regulatory agenda to allow expanded operations through incremental rulemakings.

At today’s press conference, Secretary Chao remarked that the United States “must create a path forward for the safe integration of drones four country is going to become a drone leader, and reap the economic benefits drones have to offer.”  She explained that the projects chosen for the IPP “will help open the door for drone applications in agriculture, commerce, health care, emergency response, disaster, and even human transport programs.”

What’s Next?

The winners will be able to start conducting their expanded UAS operations consistent with their applications.  These operations will include, among others, beyond visual line of sight, flights over people, UAS traffic management, medical device delivery, infrastructure inspection, search and rescue and emergency response, and night time operations.

Those who were not selected may have another bite at the apple.  DOT has indicated previously that it may conduct multiple rounds of IPP applications and grants.  Although Secretary Chao did not announce any future rounds at today’s press conference, she did note that many of the IPP applications received “are still excellent proposals in their own right.”  She explained that she has asked the FAA to “reach out to many of these other applicants in the coming months and week to talk about how they might be able to move forward,” including through waivers of FAA rules.  This is consistent with the FAA’s recent messaging on being “Open for Business” to work with entities trying to do expanded operations given the delay in agency rulemakings.

Those awaiting future FAA rulemakings will be pleasantly surprised to learn that DOT has submitted two rulemaking documents to OMB for approval.  The first of these is the FAA’s long-delayed and highly anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on flights over people.  Although the FAA had originally intended to release the NPRM at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2017 as part of the agency’s incremental approach to enabling expanded UAS operations, the proceeding was delayed by concerns of the security community about the ability to identify the operators of UAS (“Remote ID”) and track UAS in flight.  To address these concerns, the second rulemaking submitted today is an advance NPRM (ANPRM) on “Safe and Secure Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”  Although neither document is publicly available, the ANPRM is expected to lay the groundwork for a future NPRM on Remote ID and tracking requirements.  More information about what the NPRM was expected to include last year is available here

Interestingly, the FAA has repeatedly stated in the past year that a Remote ID rulemaking is the key to all future rulemakings.  The fact that DOT sent both the Safe and Secure UAS Operations and the Flights Over People NPRM to OMB at the same time raises the question of whether the FAA will pursue the two rulemakings simultaneously. 

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