Murkowski’s Behind-the-Scenes Effort Makes UAF Drone Research Flight a Reality

Senator Works with Federal Aviation Administration to Clear Chukchi Fly-over

This past weekend, a small, unmanned aerial system (UAS) conducted flights over Alaska’s skies and waters, collecting vital data and information on whales and marine wildlife to inform the resource development work being considered for oil leases in the Chukchi Sea – but the flight would not have been possible without Senator Lisa Murkowski’s involvement.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) originally declined to authorize continuing University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ research flights – the exact same ones that took place last year through a NASA certification – without adding a manned airplane or a ship to monitor the UAS’ activities, either of which would have added possible disruptions or foreign noises to the marine habitat being surveyed.  (The UAS is studying Bowhead whale population numbers.)

(Click here for video of launch.)

After a series of conversations with Murkowski’s office in Washington, DC, the Senator was able to successfully make the case to the FAA that the airspace over the Chukchi was not heavily trafficked, nor would it have been helpful or productive for any planes or ships to be involved to add more variables to the ecosystem.  Under the arrangement outlined in the approval certificate (attached), NORAD’s radar system will be able to ensure all safety concerns are addressed.

Within 24 hours of Senator Murkowski getting involved, the UAS Nanook took to the air.

“The FAA was using a Lower 48 checklist for an Alaska mission and inadvertently adding more disruptions and potential harm to the research in the process,” said Murkowski.  “I thank the officials there for being willing to hear why the Alaska skies and waters are different and deserve a different perspective – the data and information accumulated in this research will improve our steps moving forward and make them safer.”