Virginia selected to participate in national drone program

Photo provided by Virginia Tech.

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia is becoming a place not only for Lovers, but for drone enthusiast as well.

The commonwealth was recently selected to participate in the Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, giving Virginia an ear on the ground floor of new developments in the drone community and industry. It will also allow the state to seek expedited flight permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration to perform some of the most complex flight testing ever attempted in the U.S., according to officials with the program.

Day-to-day program management will be done by Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which runs one of the seven federal testing sites for unmanned aircraft systems.

“I have been happy to work closely with Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership for several years now in promoting the safe use and development of drones in Virginia,” said Sen. Mark Warner, who supported the state’s application. “Today’s award is recognition that this team has assembled some of the strongest expertise in the nation and has put forward a proposal that will prove critical to shared efforts to safely integrate drones into our communities and airspace. I congratulate the team for winning this slot, and thank Secretary Chao (U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao) and the FAA for giving us the opportunity to continue Virginia’s leadership in this field.”

The team from Virginia working on this project will spend the next three years exploring drone technology that could benefit the commonwealth in a variety of ways including package delivery, emergency management and infrastructure inspection.

Part of the reason for this continuing growth of drone assistance and funding to the state is because of the interest it has gained from Virginians. Six counties in the state – Buckingham, Cumberland, Loudoun, Montgomery, Prince Edward and Wise – were a part of the proposal, and hope to be hubs for drone innovation.

“This is an important day for all of Virginia,” said Ed Albrigo, the chief executive officer of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority and the Center for Innovative Technology. “This work will be foundational to a rapidly growing innovation ecosystem in unmanned systems throughout Virginia, benefiting communities across the commonwealth and the nation overall.”

Corporate partners joining Virginia include Project Wing, Intel, AT&T, Airbus Aerial, State Farm, Dominion Energy, Sinclair Broadcast Group and HAZON Solutions.

The program will also look to gain feedback from the community on how certain endeavors by the program’s team are working in trials done over the three year period.

“The days aren’t far off when millions of drones will be flying in the airspace,” said Mark Blanks, MAAP’s director. “When you’re looking at an expansion of that scale, it’s critical to make sure it’s being handled carefully and safely. We’re grateful to the DOT and the FAA for creating this program, which recognizes the benefits drones have to offer and seeks to identify ways to balance the needs of operators and the public. It’s a perfect fit with the safety-case work we’re known for, and Virginia’s team is a great one to take it on.”