UAF’s drone program participating in new FAA unmanned aerial flight testing

Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 4:59 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI) has been selected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to take part in a new UAS research program called BEYOND. BEYOND is designed to help the FAA find ways to allow commercial and beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) operations.

The program follows the FAA UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP) started in 2017 to begin work on integrating UAS into the airspace. Of the 149 applicants, only nine were selected. One of those programs was ACUASI based out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF).

Cathy Cahill, director of ACAUSI said that they were selected because of what they can provide to the FAA. “We can offer unique airspace, low ground hazard so we are flying over nobody, [and] a whole lot of experience. We have been doing this since 2001 so we are some of the granddaddies in the field. We also have kind of the Alaskan attitude of ‘we will try anything, we will push boundaries’."

Cahill also said that Alaska has a real need for drones. "For us it is absolutely essential for delivering goods in Alaska. That makes us unique, and it makes what we are doing pertinent.

At a press conference Friday the FAA and Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the BEYOND program as a follow up to the IPP that ACUASI took part in.

The FAA once again selected ACUASI to work with them in the BEYOND program.

“We are able to speak to the FAA in a language they understand, we have a retired 30 year FAA person working for us to help us get the airspace, the list goes on and on. We are able to speak the same language," said Nick Adkins, Director of Operations at ACUASI.

Being a part of BEYOND and having ACUASI at UAF allows work to be done in Alaska that could help rural Alaskan communities.

“When we lost Ravn for example, maybe an unmanned aircraft or a remotely piloted aircraft could go from Fairbanks, Anchorage or so on and take cargo out there, and then there is not a pilot on board to transmit anything. So during these times when COVID is an issue and everything else, we could just drop the items off with an unmanned aircraft," Adkins said.

Some of the next steps include expanding their BVOLS capabilities, getting Part-135 certified, flying over people, and delivering medical supplies in Alaska. Cahill said ACUASI’s relationship with the FAA will help them be able to safely and quickly achieve these goals.

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