OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Engineering company Black & Veatch is partnering with the Kansas Department of Transportation to participate in a U.S. Department of Transportation test set to explore the use of commercial unmanned aircraft systems in beyond-line-of-sight applications.
The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDoT) was one of 10 state, local and tribal agencies selected by USDOT to participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program in May.
"Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace," Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said when making the announcement.
The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits the operation of unmanned aircraft beyond the operator's sight, at altitudes higher than 400 feet, at night or above people. Black & Veatch said it hopes to help overcome these barriers through its experience using drones to inspect dams, transmission lines, solar installations, waterways and construction sites.
Through its partnership with KDoT, Black & Veatch will initially focus on infrastructure and agricultural inspections.
"As drones become more mainstream with their versatility, these projects in Kansas and elsewhere are key in testing all applications of these unmanned aircraft systems and, if successful, may ease airspace rules for everyone's betterment," said Jamare Bates, head of Black & Veatch's UAS operations.
Data collected by KDoT and the other nine agencies selected will help USDOT and the FAA "craft new enabling rules that allow more complex low-altitude operations, identify ways to balance local and national interests related to UAS integration, improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions, address security and privacy risks, and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations," per the FAA.
The agency said integrating UAS into U.S. airspace could create 100,000 jobs and stimulate $82 billion in economic growth through the next decade, should the right conditions exist.
Other participants in the study include:
- Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (Durant, Okla.)
- City of San Diego (San Diego, Calif.)
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority (Herndon, Va.)
- Lee County Mosquito COntrol District (Fort Myers, Fla.)
- Memphis-Shelby County Authority (Memphis, Tenn.)
- North Carolina Department of Transportation (Raleigh, N.C.)
- North Dakota Department of Transportation (Bismarck, N.D.)
- City of Reno (Reno, Nev.)
- University of Alask-Fairbanks (Fairbanks, Alaska)