Regulation, Unmanned

DOT Selects 10 Participants for Nationwide Drone Integration Pilot Program

Image courtesy of DOT

U.S. Transportation Department Secretary Elaine Chao announced the 10 awardees of the UAS Integration Pilot Program. The program, which was announced by President Trump last year, will see the FAA working with local, state and tribal governments as well as businesses to explore the safe integration of drone operations.

“Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” Chao said.

The 10 awardees are Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation; the Virginia Tech Center for Innovative Technology; Florida’s Lee County Mosquito Control District; Tennessee’s Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority; the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; the cities of San Diego, California, and Reno, Nevada; and the Departments of Transportation of Kansas, North Carolina and North Dakota.

Each awardee made a proposal emphasizing why it would be a strong candidate and what partners it would work with. Companies selected as part of the program include Intel, Airbus, Uber, FedEx, General Electric, Qualcomm, Apple, Microsoft, Iris Automation and Google sister company Project Wing, as well as a host of others.

Intel, notably, will be supporting at least three of the awardees; it is on the partner teams for San Diego, Virginia Tech and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority.

“In coordination with localities, we look forward to testing technology solutions that address concerns related to UAS deployment and generate critical data to inform smart public policy,” the company said in a statement. “States and localities will continue to look to drones for safer, more efficient infrastructure inspection, search and rescue and disaster relief. The UAS Integration Pilot Program will provide the needed foundation to expand on what is possible.”

In total, DOT said it chose from 149 proposals. The stated goals of the program are to identify ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS integration, improve communications between different jurisdictions, address security and privacy risks and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

Below is more information about each awardee’s proposal and known partners.

Screenshot from FAA

Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal focuses on agricultural, public safety and infrastructure inspections, with planned Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations over people and nighttime operations.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The proposal highlights plans to invest in mobile ground-based detect and avoid radars and advanced weather infrastructure. The awardee, along with partners CNN and the Green Valley Farms Living Laboratory, has an aggressive 90-day schedule for high-profile Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) and night operations. The data obtained from these operations will be broadly applicable and could extend to a wide range of operations and geographical locations.

“The Choctaw Nation has always supported technology innovations,” said Choctaw Chief Gary Batton.“We look forward to participating in this important UAS initiative and helping the U.S. remain globally competitive in emerging aviation technology fields.  We are excited to promote job growth, economic development, and important educational opportunities for our citizens and our neighbors in southeastern Oklahoma.”


City of San Diego, California

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal focuses on border protection and package delivery of food, with a secondary focus on international commerce, Smart City/autonomous vehicle interoperability and surveillance.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The awardee will conduct UAS operations and examine new technologies not in use today by leveraging its indoor testing facilities and various drone landing stations and ports. The proposal would employ a variety of available communications technologies, including 5G test networks and the 4G LTE cellular network and AT&T’s national first responder network authority (FirstNet.) These UAS operations will provide solid data to improve UAS specific ID & Tracking systems, necessary for UAS integration into the National Airspace System.

San Diego’s known partners include University of California, San Diego, Qualcomm, Uber, AT&T, GE and Cape.

“San Diego is a hotbed of autonomous vehicle activity already,” said Erik Caldwell, San Diego’s director of economic development. “What we really heard from our partner companies is that they’re ready to go, fast … the activity they’re doing indoors and in confined spaces is ready to move outdoors.”

“We will work on food delivery (by drone in San Diego), which is one of the most exciting parts of the business,” said Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi at the Uber Elevate summit in Los Angeles. “It is my personal belief that the key to solving urban mobility is flying burgers.”


Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Herndon, Virginia

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal seeks to facilitate package delivery in rural and urban settings. It includes the use of enabling technologies such as detect and avoid, Identification and tracking, radar systems, and mapping tools.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The awardee seeks to leverage existing expertise through partnerships with the Virginia Tech UAS Test Site, NASA, and stakeholders with cybersecurity expertise. Data obtained through these diverse operations and varied operating environments will provide significant, scalable benefits to the agency and industry.

Known corporate partners include Project Wing, Intel, AT&T, Airbus Aerial, State Farm, Dominion Energy, Sinclair Broadcast Group and HAZON Solutions.

“This is an important day for all of Virginia,” said Ed Albrigo, the Center’s CEO, according to VTnews. “This work will be foundational to a rapidly growing innovation ecosystem in unmanned systems throughout Virginia, benefiting communities across the commonwealth and the nation overall.”

State Farm Staff Consultant Todd Binion said “State Farm has earned a reputation for providing an industry leading catastrophe response. We see drone technology as an additional tool to help us assess damage and serve our customers and communities impacted by catastrophe events.”

Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, Kansas

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal deploys UAS to support beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations in rural communities. It seeks to leverage a statewide unmanned traffic management system to facilitate precision agriculture operations.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: Operations will use a range of technologies, such as detect and avoid, ADS-B, satellite communications and geo-fencing. The program will use existing in-state resources such as fiber optic networks and UTM. The awardee has a robust community involvement plan that supports the diverse operations that are planned.

“We are looking forward to leading the way in Unmanned Aircraft Systems going forward and we are very happy to be a part of this program,” said Governor Jeff Colyer. “UAS technology has the potential to do so many remarkable things and as the air capital of the world we feel it’s particularly appropriate for Kansas to be a part of this aviation of the future.”


Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Myers, Florida

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal focuses on low-altitude aerial applications to control/surveil the mosquito population using a 1500-lb. UAS.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The proposal includes scalable solutions that take into account a broad range of current and future technologies that include ground-based detect and avoid radar systems that would integrate ADS-B, infrared imaging and satellite technology. The proposal includes night operations, BVLOS and operations over people.

Lee County Mosquito Control District’s Eric Jackson said that participation in the program could allow them more leeway, according to The district uses drones to aid in its anti-mosquito efforts, but might not be able to try additional measures BVLOS or at higher altitudes, for instance.

“The bottom line is we’re spending a lot of time in the air,” Jackson said. “The big thing is efficiency. We can’t be wasting time. We’ve got a window (of four to five days) where we need to treat mosquitoes before they emerge” from their nests.


Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, Tennessee

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal focuses on the inspection of FedEx aircraft and autonomous operations that support airport operations such as perimeter security surveillance and package delivery. Proposed operations include working with a UTM concept that would also work with manned air traffic.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: Teaming with FedEx and Agricenter International, the awardee would support an integrated environment of urban, airport, private property and farmland that would yield an estimated $500 million annual benefit to the economy. Data collected would not only serve UAS, but work with normal air traffic truly advancing integration.

Known partners include FedEx Corp., General Electric subsidiaries AirXOS and Avitas, Intel, Flirtey, 901Drones, Express Drone Parts, ForeverReady Productions, Shelby County, the city of Memphis, the University of Memphis, Agricenter International and the Tennessee Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics.

Shelby County is such a unique area with a diversity of environments for testing,” said Eddie Jacobs, director of the FedEx Institute of Technology’s DRONES Research Cluster at the University of Memphis, who was part of the team that wrote the local application, according to the Memphis Business Journal. “In one county, we can go from the farm to the city to major industry. It was a compelling part of our bid.”


North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, North Carolina

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal seeks to test localized package delivery within a defined airspace by establishing drone delivery stations in local communities. This approach enables small businesses to utilize this delivery platform for commercial purposes.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The proposal seeks to operate over human beings, beyond visual line of sight and at night, and seeks to use a variety of technological tools to enable these advanced operations. Tools include ADS-B, detect and avoid technologies, UTM and radar technologies. The data collected from these diverse operations will significantly enhance safe UAS integration into the National Airspace System.

Known partners include Apple, PrecisionHawk, AirMap, Zipline, Matternet and Flytrex.

“North Carolina has always been on the forefront of aviation innovation and now is a national leader in drone safety education and use,” said Chief Deputy Secretary David Howard. “Being selected for this program will allow us to learn more about how drones can safely be used in new ways to help our citizens.”


North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, North Dakota

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal includes a wide variety of diverse operations that incorporate advanced technologies that seek to expand UAS operations at night and Beyond Visual Line of Sight. The proposal will focus on data from four criteria: external systems, aircraft system technologies, training requirements, and processes and procedures.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: Operations will be in multiple types of airspaces ranging from rural to urban areas. Working with experienced UAS research partners will lead to scalable operations for a multitude of UAS industries including linear infrastructure inspections, crop health monitoring, and media reporting and emergency response.

“This innovative technology will enhance our state in many areas,” said North Dakota DOT Director Tom Sorel said. “Our transportation system in North Dakota represents a sandbox for UAS ideas and applications. We have just opened the door to a new era of technology that will revolutionize the way we do business, and we welcome all our partners to walk through that door with us.”

“With this Pilot Program, we also will be able to create new avenues to enhance safety on our roadways and help first responders keep our citizens safe during emergencies,” he said. “It will allow us to explore new uses for unmanned aircraft, such as monitoring critical infrastructure and working with law enforcement and emergency services to speed up response times during events such as flooding, blizzards and finding missing persons.”


The City of Reno, Nevada

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal focuses on the time-sensitive delivery of life-saving medical equipment, such as medical defibrillators in emergency situations in both urban and rural environments.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The awardee will integrate additional infrastructure such as radar and weather data in order to expand the UAS capability so it could save up to 28-34 lives per year, using one drone in a three-mile city radius. This proposal considers a nationwide scalable model for medical delivery operations and has several commercial medical partners.

Known partners include AirMap, Alpine Insurance, American Red Cross, Carson City Fire Department, City of Sparks and Sparks Fire Department, FedEx, Iris Automation, Northern Nevada Medical Center, Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Truckee Meadows Community College, T-Mobile and Washoe County.

“Based on Flirtey’s analysis, we expect that just one of our drones operating in Reno will save one life every two weeks,” Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeny said. “This model is a game-changer for the health of our communities and will prove the viability of this life-saving program, which has the potential to save over one million American lives over the decades to come.”


University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska

Image courtesy of FAA

PROPOSAL DESCRIPTION: The proposal’s primary focus is pipeline inspection and surveying in remote areas and harsh climatic conditions, but it has proposed a broad range of other types of operations in urban and rural areas, ranging from public safety to UAS detection.

PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS AND BENEFITS: The awardee uses enabling technologies that include collision avoidance, detect and avoid day and night, ADS-B, differential GPS, satellite services, infrared imaging and UTM. Operations in remote areas provide a unique opportunity to evaluate data on several advanced technologies. The unique climate and operating environment also provide an opportunity not available to other awardees.

UAF has said that it’s proposal included 21 state and business partners.

Drones “continue to be used for a variety of purposes in Alaska and across the country, including for pipeline safety, innovation within the oil and gas sector, and numerous other recreational and commercial activities,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, a member of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “Because of the enormous role aviation plays in Alaska, particularly with our diverse geography and enormous airspace, we have long led the way in developing innovative measures and partnerships to ensure our aviation systems are safe, reliable and accessible for all users.”


Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox