UAF selected to participate in federal pilot program for drones

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been selected to participate in a federal program exploring the integration of unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace. UAF’s Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration is one of ten entities selected from around the nation for the pilot program.

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At an event to announce the recipients in Washington D.C. yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said President Trump created the pilot program to facilitate testing of drones in conditions where they are not currently allowed to operate under.

”These include operations over the heads of people, beyond the line of sight and at night,” Chao said.

Chao says the United State Department of Transportation received 150 proposals, from which the winning ten, were selected.

”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,” Chao said.

Alaska Center Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration director Cathy Cahill attended the event in Washington D.C. and afterwards outlined a range of Alaska projects included in the UAF proposal.

”Infrastructure monitoring for pipelines, including TAPS. We’ve got projects identified that will be medical device delivery across the Turnagain Arm and marine mammal surveys in Cook Inlet,” Cahill listed. “Flying over Anchorage in that airspace for filming of events and for law enforcement. And we’re looking at where remote reaches in doing fish and wildlife surveys, wildfire monitoring, search and rescue.”

Cahill says selection for the program cements Alaska’s position as national leader in drone testing and applications.

”We have the test site. We are part of the FAA Center of Excellence in Research. And we have the integration pilot program,” Cahill said. “We’re one of only two states that has all three, so we’ve got the triple crown.”

Cahill says UAF has 21 project partners including state agencies and private businesses, to help fund its various drone projects, as the federal pilot program does not come with any money.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.