FAA IPP Update: From the Floor of Commercial UAV Expo

FAA IPPAt this morning’s Commercial UAV Expo Keynote Panel, Erik Amend, Executive Office Manager of the FAA UAS Integration Office, gave an update on the FAA IPP.  Integration Pilot Program (IPP) participants gave their insights on how the program has benefited the communities they serve and the drone industry.

As many of the FAA IPP programs are measuring success, “Everyone wants to know what’s next,” says Amend.   The FAA intends to continue to expand IPP projects to gather more data on expanded operations and to stretch the breadth of applications that they’re working on.   “We’re working with existing participants to form new agreements; we’re working with Congress and the DoT; and we expect to make an announcement soon,” says Amend.

The scope of the IPP has been broad: including energy applications, drone delivery, BVLOS flight, public safety, and environmental projects.  “Everybody has a chance to recognize the benefits,” says Amend.

Not only have the communities where the IPP takes place benefited from the program, but the IPP has benefited the entire drone industry.  “In engaging communities, IPP has tried to address concerns before the projects began… you can reduce the perception of risky operations and you can deliver convenience for people and companies.”

What Has Come Out of the FAA IPP?

Cathy Cahill is the Director of ACUASI, University of Alaska IPP.  Among numerous successful initiatives, the Alaskan IPP has successfully enabled beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight over the Alaskan pipeline system and for cargo delivery to remote areas. “BVLOS is the key to operating in Alaska – most of our state is completely inaccessible except by aircraft,” says Cahill.  “We don’t have a last mile problem like Amazon – we have a last 100 miles problem.”

Eileen Lockhart is the UAS Program Manager at XCel Energy – they’ve also worked on BVLOS applications and energy inspections as well as package delivery.  “It’s helped us truly improve our asset maintenance program, and our reliability program – we’re better able to keep the lights on for our customers while improving safety.”

Katelyn McCauley is the Program Manager for the San Diego IPP, where she works with the Chula Vista Police Department on their project which responds to 911 calls with drones.  They’re also working with Uber to pilot drone delivery, which McCauley says is not just about getting people food faster. “We’re really trying to help smaller businesses expand and eliminate “food deserts.”

In public safety, McCauley says that the benefits are really clear – especially for understaffed police departments.  “This can save lives,” says McCauley.  “We can get the drone on the scene so much faster, and give those officers an awareness of what they’re walking in to.”

Mark Blanks is the Operations Manager at the Virginia IPP.  The Virginia IPP has pioneered community drone delivery with their program partnering with Wing in Christianburg, VA.  Wing delivers medicine, consumer products and food, and library books to the community.  “We saw a tremendous increase when the [Covid] stay at home orders were implemented… but now that they’ve lifted, the volume has stayed up,” says Blanks.  “People now realize the convenience of drone delivery… now the question is, ‘What can we do to scale this beyond Christianburg, Virginia?”

Alaska’s Cahill says that they’ve learned a clear lesson from their experience: “If you work with the FAA, you can get things done.”

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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