Alaska Senators Welcome Selection of University of Alaska, Fairbanks as UAS Integration Pilot Program Site

Alaska Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski welcomed yesterday’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation naming the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) as one of 10 sites nationwide selected for the highly competitive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP). The newly created program serves an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments to partner with private sector entities to accelerate the safe UAS integration in American airspace. UAF was selected out of 149 applications submitted to the DOT.

Members of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Team

Members of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Team in Washington, DC for the DOT IPP Announcement.

“Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, continue to be used for 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. Today’s announcement is a positive step to ensuring the development and advancement of the rules governing UAS are made with the input, real-world applications and knowledge of Alaskan stakeholders. I commend UAF for their continued work to safeguard our skies and thank the Department of Transportation and FAA for recognizing the enormous benefit Alaska serves in developing the nation’s aviation sector.”

“I offer my sincerest congratulations to UAF for being chosen as one of 10 sites nationwide for this extremely competitive pilot program. Unmanned aerial systems are game changers, allowing businesses and governments to overcome geographical challenges and a lack of infrastructure. Alaska is leading cutting edge drone technology development and today’s announcement will enable UAF to continue to build upon that innovative work. What’s being developed at UAF is the foundation for safe, reliable use of drones all over the U.S. as they become integrated into wider public use,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “I’m encouraged by the work that the Center of Excellence is pioneering regarding drone surveillance in rural Alaska, so we can inspect and monitor everything from sea ice conditions to critical infrastructure. This program will allow drone inspections to be used to improve safety and maintenance needs in incredible ways, allowing us to approach real time incident response.”

“We’ve got to create a path forward for the safe integration for drones if our country is going to remain a global aviation leader and reap the safety and economic benefits drones have to offer, “ said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “And that is why on October 25th, 2017, the President directed the Department to launch a new pilot program, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integrated Pilot Program. It will test the safe operation of drones in a variety of conditions currently forbidden. These include the operations over the heads of people, beyond the line of site, and at night. Instead of a dictate from Washington, this program takes another approach. It allows interested communities to test drones in ways that their comfortable with. This will help demonstrate how drones can safely perform a wide range of activities at different times of the day and across a variety of locations and geographies. So when the department put out a request for applications for this program, the response from communities all across the country was overwhelming. Approximately 150 communities and their private sector partners applied. Now, we went looking for good ideas and we found great ideas. The projects announced today will help open the door for drone applications in agriculture, in commerce, in healthcare, in emergency response, disaster assistance and even human transportation.”

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao speaking at UAS Integration Pilot Program Announcement

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao speaking at today’s UAS Integration Pilot Program Announcement (click image or here to watch). 

The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) was established by presidential memorandum in October 2017. The order called for the Secretary of Transportation to enter into at least five agreements with State, local or tribal governments to further test, expand and accelerate safe UAS integration. The program will help the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) craft new enabling rules that allow more complex low-altitude operations by:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS 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 Program is expected foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration, and provide actionable information to the USDOT on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the National Airspace System.