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How Much Progress Has the UAS IPP Made? A Look Back at the First Year and the FAA Approvals Secured

BY Zacc Dukowitz
30 May 2019

It’s been over a year since the UAS Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP) winners were announced, and a lot has happened since then.

In the last few months, we’ve seen a series of FAA approvals granted to IPP partners, largely as a result of the testing they’ve done through their partnerships.

In this article we’re going to look at each of the ten programs and the progress they’ve made over the last year, specifically when it comes to securing approvals for types of flying prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules for small unmanned aircraft, like flying over people or Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

uas-ipp-programs
Image sources

What Is the UAS IPP?

Before we dive into looking at the progress made, let’s review the IPP’s primary goals as listed by the FAA.

Here is how the FAA describes the IPP’s primary objectives on their website:

The program is helping the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) craft new rules that support more complex low-altitude operations by:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to drone integration
  • Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Addressing security and privacy risks
  • Accelerating the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

The FAA

In addition to testing BVLOS and other types of flying prohibited by the Part 107 rules, an explicit goal of the program is to involve authorities at the state and local levels in shaping drone policy.

It’s no secret that, when it comes to drone laws, there is ongoing tension between federal and local authorities, so much so that the FAA has issued statements reminding cities that they are not allowed to create their own laws about how drones are flown in the airspace over them.

The IPP has helped to ease some of this tension by creating a framework for involving more local and state voices in the drone discussion. But since it’s hard to evaluate exactly how much impact has been made on the state/federal drone law issue, we’re going to focus here only on the FAA approvals that have been granted as a result of the UAS IPP.

[Want to see what the drone laws are in your state? Check out this free resource we made with all the drone laws by state in the U.S.]

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Image source

IPP Progress: FAA Approvals Granted to IPP Partners in the Last Year

Here’s a map showing the locations of the original ten IPP sites (see the interactive map here on the FAA’s site):

uas-ipp-drone-map

FAA Approval Highlights

In the section that follows we’re covering every single IPP site—if you’d like to jump directly to the sites that actually received FAA approvals over the last year, you can do so using this list:

1) Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma

ONE YEAR UPDATES

There do not seem to be any FAA approvals associated with the Choctaw Nation IPP yet.

In August of 2018, the Choctaw Nation IPP hosted a demonstration in which a drone was used to bait an advanced feral hog trap, keeping the drone in visual line of sight throughout the operation.

Learn more about the Choctaw Nation IPP on this website devoted to their program.

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.

2) City of San Diego, California

ONE YEAR UPDATES

As part of the City of San Diego’s IPP testing, the Chula Vista Police Department (CCPD) received the first-ever BVLOS COA in March of this year.

The COA allows the CCPD to fly BVLOS over a nearly 40-square-mile area within its jurisdiction. It is the first COA ever issued by the FAA with a BVLOS provision for public safety.

Learn more about the San Diego, CA IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

3) Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Herndon, Virginia

ONE YEAR UPDATES

Using test data from its involvement in the Virginia IPP, Wing Aviation was recently awarded the first air carrier certification ever given to a drone company.

This certification effectively recognizes Wing as an airline and opens the door for the company to begin making commercial drone deliveries.

Learn more about the Herndon, VA IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

4) Kansas Department of Transportation

ONE YEAR UPDATES

There do not seem to be any FAA approvals associated with the Kansas DOT IPP yet.

In August of 2018, the Kansas DOT conducted a BVLOS demonstration in the town of Gypsum, which was the first FAA-approved BVLOS flight ever made in the state. Learn more in this press release issued by the Kansas DOT.

Note: The Kansas DOT IPP does not seem to have a website/webpage devoted to their program.

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 UAS Traffic Management (UTM). The awardee has a robust community involvement plan that supports the diverse operations that are planned.

5) Lee County Mosquito Control District

ONE YEAR UPDATES

Although Lee County was one of the ten programs originally selected as an IPP partner, they are no longer listed on the FAA’s official list of active programs. This list now only includes nine programs, with Lee County having been removed, and there is no note or explanation regarding the current status of the Lee County IPP.

That being said, Lee County is still testing the use of drones in its efforts to control the mosquito population in Florida. You can learn more on this webpage devoted to UAS on their website.

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.

6) Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority

ONE YEAR UPDATES

There do not seem to be any FAA approvals associated with the Memphis-Shelby County Airport IPP yet.

However, the Memphis-Shelby County Airport IPP has conducted extensive testing and flight demonstrations—from September 2018 through April 2019 they have conducted seven different test flights and demonstrations.

Learn more about the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

7) North Carolina Department of Transportation

ONE YEAR UPDATES

In April of this year, NC DOT IPP partners Matternet and UPS received permission from the FAA to conduct regular drone deliveries of blood samples on the WakeMed hospital campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. According to Matternet, this is the first time that the FAA has given permission to a company to use drones for routine commercial package deliveries, also known as “revenue flights.”

Zipline, another NC DOT IPP partner, has also reportedly received approval from the FAA to begin making drone deliveries in North Carolina.

Learn more about the North Carolina DOT IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

8) North Dakota Department of Transportation

ONE YEAR UPDATES

There do not seem to be any FAA approvals associated with the ND DOT IPP yet.

In April of this year the ND DOT used drones in partnership with local officials to monitor overland and urban flooding events—get the details on the effort in this press release posted on the ND DOT website.

Learn more about the ND DOT IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

9) City of Reno, Nevada

ONE YEAR UPDATES

Testing conducted as part of the Reno IPP helped drone delivery company Flirtey secure FAA approval to fly BVLOS for deliveries within the Reno city limits. Flirtey plans to use the approval to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for the immediate treatment of people undergoing cardiac arrest.

Learn more about the Reno, NV IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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.

10) University of Alaska—Fairbanks, AK

ONE YEAR UPDATES

As a result of testing conducted in the University of Alaska—Fairbanks (UAF) IPP, Boeing subsidiary Insitu and the UAF Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration secured approval from the FAA for regular BVLOS and nighttime flights in October of 2018.

Initial flights using these new permissions were made to survey portions of the trans-Alaska pipeline—read about how the approvals will be used in this press release posted on the UAF website.

Learn more about the UAF IPP on this webpage devoted to their program.

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, 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.

What do you think about the progress the UAS IPP made in its first year? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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