FAA expands low-altitude drone tests

By Diana Grytsku ID: 522127369 

The Federal Aviation Administration will expand its test of a near-real-time drone authorization processing system beginning next month, and will add more mapping providers to the effort, the agency's acting administrator told a gathering of unmanned aircraft operators.

Acting Administrator Dan Elwell said at the agency's 3rd Annual UAS Symposium that starting at the end of April, the FAA will expand Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability into a nationwide beta test.

That test will include 300 air traffic control centers across the country, which serve 500 airports. The test begins April 30, and will look at how the automated processing system data sharing functions will work.

The FAA launched a prototype low-altitude test last fall at eight regional air traffic control facilities, as it accelerated plans to integrate drones into the national airspace.

FAA regulation requires unmanned system operators flying aircraft at lower altitudes in airspace controlled by an agency air traffic control facility to get formal permission before such operations.

In an Oct. 23 memo, President Donald Trump called for an UAS Integration Pilot Program to go live in 90 days to set test zones and build regulatory framework to get commercial drones, such as those that deliver medicine, inspect critical infrastructure, monitor emergencies and other applications into the U.S. airspace more effectively.

With the explosion of commercial drone technology and applications, the agency has been buried under a backlog of thousands of commercial applications. The effort fully automates that authorization process in near real-time, according to the FAA, which the agency said will "dramatically" decrease wait times compared to the manual process. Additionally, air traffic controllers would be able to actually see where drones have planned operations.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • People
    2021 Federal 100 Awards

    Announcing the 2021 Federal 100 Award winners

    Meet the women and men being honored for their exceptional contributions to federal IT.

  • Comment
    Diverse Workforce (Image: Shutterstock)

    Who cares if you wear a hoodie or a suit? It’s the mission that matters most

    Responding to Steve Kelman's recent blog post, Alan Thomas shares the inside story on 18F's evolution.

Stay Connected