What is The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program?
Last October, President Trump announced ‘The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot’ program, as a way to carefully integrate commercial drones into US airspace to benefit communities. As the Consumer Technology Association’s vice president of technology policy Doug Johnson previously agreed, the program is a “smart way to engage local governments and community stakeholders, enable expanded and beneficial drone operations, and support a data-driven approach to future federal actions — all of which allow the U.S. to maximise drones’ potential for job creation and economic benefits.”
As it stands, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has 90,000 registered drone pilots and over one million registered drones. The FAA have previously been extremely cautious with their regulations and do not currently permit any pilot to fly their drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), nor do they permit night flying (except with special permission usually reserved for one-off specialist operations, such as offshore oil rig inspection). Therefore, this initiative allows the potential for significant change in direction for the regulations surrounding commercial drone operations in the US.
Over the past 7 months, 149 proposals were submitted to the US Department of Transport (DoT), of which 10 winners have now been chosen to undertake projects:
“This is such an exciting day for aviation, for safety, for innovation,” US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said last week. “We’ve got to create a path forward for the safe integration of drones if our country is to remain a global aviation leader and reap the safety and economic benefits drones have to offer.”
As AirMap co-founder Greg McNeal explained, “the genius of the Integration Pilot Program is that it relies on collaboration to open the skies, harmonizing the way society balances the concerns of some communities with our desire to quickly achieve the full promise of drone technology,” AirMap are working under six different projects awarded in the UAS IPP, using their technology solutions to enable BVLOS flights where commercial drones can safely identify the best flight path based on time, risk, and performance requirements for a delivery operation.
Drone delivery service pioneer Flirtey, who achieved the very first drone delivery to be approved by the FAA in 2015, will work under four different projects including The City of Reno NV project, where they will develop delivery services of life-saving medical equipment and supplies. One of their main focuses will be to drop defibrillators in response to emergency calls, so that members of the public can deliver first aid prior to the paramedic’s arrival. As Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeney explains, “Based on historical cardiac arrest data, one Flirtey drone equipped with a defibrillator can save one life every two weeks in Reno.” They are reported to be using FedEx stores as stations for their supplies and logistics.
To much surprise, one applicant not awarded a project was delivery giant Amazon. “While it’s unfortunate the applications we were involved with were not selected, we support the Administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” explained Brian Huseman, Amazon’s Head of Public Policy. However, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has stated that more projects could be approved over the coming months.
So, What does this mean for the UK?
Well, if we’re going by EASA’s proposal for change in the legislation for UK drone operators, we might just be headed in a similar direction. EASA’s Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) Subcategory A3 is comparable to the FAA’s Part 107 legislation, opening the UK up to similar opportunity for growth when it comes to drone technology and innovation, should EASA’s proposal come into play. Of course, no two things are ever exactly the same, so we look forward to seeing what the future holds for the US’ UAS IPP and whether the UK will follow suit over the coming months or even years.