Virginia selected to participate in DOT pilot program involving drones

An exhibitor demonstrates a drone flight at last year’s CES International in Las Vegas. Federal transportation officials have announced 10 sites for a three-year drone program aimed at increasing government and commercial use of unmanned aircraft. (Jae

Drones will be operated beyond visual line of sight of operators, and pilots will be alerted to the presence of drones. They will deliver small aircraft parts in a designated area of the airport, inspect aircraft and provide emergency response, according to an airport statement.

The Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority submitted the program proposal with partners: City of Memphis, Agricenter International, FedEx, University of Memphis, Tennessee Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics, GE subsidiaries AirXOS and Avitas, Intel, Flirtey, 901Drones, Express Drone Parts, and Forever Ready Productions. Uses will include infrastructure inspection, public safety and medical deliveries. Testing will cover everything from farming and environmental protection at Shelby Farms to perimeter security and detecting foreign objects at the airport runways.

"Being done in Memphis, it will be done with the help of FedEx and will absolutely, positively be done right", Cohen 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 1 million American lives over the decades to come", he said.

"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", Amazon vice president of public policy Brian Huseman said in a statement.

Brockman said the airport authority has been working on the application since previous year.

Mark Blanks, the director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which will manage day-to-day operations of the project in Virginia, said this is just the beginning for drone implementation and these projects will help ensure drone development is done right. "It shows the federal government has adopted an entirely new way of thinking about these kind of aircrafts", Gregory McNeal, a co-founder of the drone startup AirMap, which is partnering with six of the 10 selected cities, told CNN Money.

Cohen added, "This is a major development for Memphis and puts us on the map as a major player in the nascent drone industry. The economic impact of this announcement can not be overstated, and I congratulate the airport authority and its partners for this major achievement".

Drone integration testing in Kansas will focus on search and rescue of stranded motorists, explore infrastructure inspection and remote safety assessment applications for transportation nationwide.

FAA also has sent two proposed regulations for expanding drone flight to the White House for review, Chao said.

"We are looking forward to helping today's winners unlock the enormous potential of drone operations, which will create new services and jobs in their local communities", said Secretary Chao. Officials say current regulations have limited drone use, forcing companies to test overseas. "Night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot's line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft" are all key focus areas for the pilot, according to DoT.

"We're grateful to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration for providing us with the opportunity to conduct our most advanced testing to date on USA soil", said James Ryan Burgess, co-lead of Project Wing, which will be testing in Virginia.

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