Unmanned aircraft partnership gets FAA authorization
RICHMOND — The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a new flight corridor in central Virginia for unnamed aircraft testing.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office announced Friday that the FAA had recently authorized the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to conduct research flights up to 7,000 feet high in a nearly 5,000 square mile area.
“Unmanned systems technology is the next generation of research and data analytics and our investment into this technology gives Virginian companies the edge in competing in the global market,” McAuliffe said. “With these groundbreaking initiatives, Virginia’s researchers and engineers can expand the technical capabilities in the aviation and energy fields and grow these critical sectors of the new Virginia economy.”
The first flight took place in the newly approved corridor took place on May 11.
Officials said the newly authorized airspace will speed up development of unmanned aircraft capable of doing safety inspections of critical infrastructure.
To advance that research, the governor introduced, and the 2016 General Assembly adopted, $950,000 for equipment for the new test range. The instrumentation will include transponder equipment allowing unmanned aircraft systems or UAS to transmit their position to receivers on the ground, radars for the detection of aircraft not carrying transponders, and display technology to integrate that data, giving users an awareness of other aircraft in the area.
The newly authorized airspace covers more than 10 percent of the land area in the state and includes a unique set of critical infrastructure such as airports, power plants, electric lines, energy assets, and rail lines.
“Getting that large an area in the mid-Atlantic region is significant,” said Rose Mooney, Executive Director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. “We’re in the heart of aviation country: we have a lot of flights, a lot of infrastructure, and a lot going on. If we can do these types of flights safely here, we can do them virtually anywhere.”
The certificate of authorization includes land in Buckingham, Nottoway, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Prince Edward, Charlotte, Appomattox, Louisa, Goochland, Powhatan, Amelia, Lunenburg, Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Campbell counties.
Unmanned aircraft are expected to increase safety and enable more frequent, efficient, and reliable data collection. They can also reduce the time needed to assess conditions and dispatch repair crews following severe weather.
A multi-industry research consortium is also forming to utilize Virginia’s extensive resources for unmanned systems research, according to industry representatives.
The consortium is organized through Pipeline Research Council International, Inc. and American Aerospace Technologies, Inc., and includes companies from industries spanning oil and natural gas, electric power, and telecommunications. The consortium will explore and develop sensors, analytics, and operational concepts that can enhance the efficiency and safety of aerial inspections of critical infrastructures.
Published on The Progress-Index, Friday, May 20, 2016