The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and industry partners in the unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drone) traffic management system pilot successfully demonstrated how multiple drones can function safely in the national airspace. During the demonstrations, conducted at three separate test sites, multiple beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations were conducted at low altitudes (i.e., below 400 feet) in airspace where FAA air traffic services are not provided.
The first demonstration, which involved the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, took place at Virginia Tech on June 13, when separate drone flights delivered packages, studied wildlife, surveyed a cornfield, and filmed footage of court proceedings for TV. While these flights were being conducted, an emergency helicopter flight also took place, notifying nearby drone operators of the flight by using a UAS Volume Reservation (UVR) alert. All deliveries were diverted until the UVR was completed, with the other flights continuing away from the helicopter’s path. No conflicts or incidents occurred during this demonstration.
The second demonstration took place at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, North Dakota on July 10, where a photographer and a Part 107 drone operator took photographs of a firefighter training near an airport. Other operators used drones to scan for the best tailgating location at the University of North Dakota and to assess power line damage for an electric company. During those flights, the operators received a UVR indicating that a medevac helicopter was transporting a patient to a nearby hospital from the firefighter training area. The photography was stopped until the UVR notice was complete, and the other flights continued at safe distances. No conflicts or incidents occurred during this demonstration either.
The third demonstration, which occurred at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems in Las Vegas on August 1, involved separate drone flights over a golf course to survey the land before a tournament, take video footage of a property being sold, and scan a lake for boating purposes. While these flights were being conducted, a fire broke out at the golf course clubhouse and first responders were sent via helicopter. The first responders submitted a UVR and the drone operators were notified. Each operator was able either to land their drone or continue operating at a safe distance. Again, no conflicts or incidents occurred during this demonstration.
These demonstrations are an important step toward laying the groundwork for future UAS traffic management operations. The analysis of these demonstrations will assist the FAA and industry stakeholders in understanding the level of investment required for implementation of a safe, efficient system. Ultimately the FAA will define the UAS traffic management regulatory framework under which third-party providers will operate.