FAA Ramps Up Its Public-Private Partnerships for Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced it will partner with commercial companies to support its drone integration safety work. Participating companies will match the agency’s $6 million project pledge, performed at the FAA’S UAS test sites. Formed in 2013, these sites offer a place for the drone industry and stakeholder community to conduct research and concept development.

The Administration is partnering with the private sector to ensure their drone integration is completed safely and efficiently. With US commercial drone use in its infancy, the opportunity also gives businesses a chance to gain experience with the technology.

Dan Elwel, Acting FAA Administrator, noted that the FAA wants to “bridge the gap between industry and the test sites to tackle some of our most difficult technical and operational challenges.”

A History of Private Sector Collaboration

At the FAA, public-private partnerships for drone safety work are anything but foreign. The new drone project builds upon another program that connects private sector partners with FAA resources: the UAS Integration Pilot Program. Founded in 2017, the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) program brings together state, local and tribal governments with private sector entities, such as UAS operators or manufacturers, to accelerate safe drone integration.

IPP participants, who include the City of San Diego, the Kansas Department of Transportation, and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, among others, are addressing security and privacy risks; improving communications with government jurisdictions; and are evaluating a host of operational concepts related to safe drone integration.

This research could have tremendous implications for fields such as emergency management or agricultural support, which rely heavily on drone technology. And it certainly sets the stage for the FAA’s most recent partnership initiative, which not only invites participation from private sector entities, but entire companies.

Why Public-Private?

Through these public-private partnerships, the FAA aims to maximize private sector capital use, as well as create a collaborative integration strategy. This also benefits the private sector, allowing commercial stakeholders to provide input on regulations that will ultimately impact their own operations.

Companies have also noted the lag time between sufficient policymaking and advancing technology. The FAA drone partnerships help establish “innovation hubs” across the country, where industry experts can work with state and local authorities to address public operational needs. Ultimately, collaboration on this level will expedite the process of bringing drone technology to the American people.  

The Commercial Drone Alliance, a leading industry advocacy group, has noted that they “welcome the Administration’s recognition of the commercial drone industry’s tremendous potential.”

“It is a step in the right direction,” according to their statement.

Interested in Applying?

For companies that would like to participate, step one of the process is a white paper package, is due this upcoming Friday, June 28, 2019. If accepted, a full proposal must be submitted by July 31, 2019. Prospective applicants can learn more here.

Companies must have the technical capability to work on many different drone integration technologies, deemed essential by the FAA, including: night time operations; operations over people; sense and avoid capabilities (SAA); unmanned aircraft systems traffic management; and many others. Review the full list here.

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