Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao May 9 selected the Kansas Department of Transportation to participate in the department’s new Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

This program will pair the Federal Aviation Administration, KDOT and private sector participants to collect invaluable data on how to safely integrate drones in the national airspace, and help state, local and tribal governments partner with private sector drone operators and manufacturers to expedite drone integration nationwide.

The program aims to identify security and privacy risks, balance local and national interests related to drones and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorization. It is expected to help the agriculture industry, photographers, emergency management, infrastructure inspections and commerce.

Under the program, KDOT plans to deploy UAS to support beyond visual line of sight operations in rural communities. It seeks to leverage a statewide, unmanned traffic management system to facilitate precision agriculture operations.

Operations will use a range of technologies such as detect and avoid, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, satellite communications and geo-fencing. The program will use existing in-state resources such as fiber optic networks and UAS Traffic Management.

“(KDOT) has a robust community involvement plan that supports the diverse operations that are planned,” an FAA fact sheet on the plan said. KDOT is one of

“Kansas is and always has been a leader in aviation,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, said in response to the announcement. “I look forward to seeing the many innovative ways KDOT, along with our state universities, will use unmanned aircraft technologies to help a variety of industries including agriculture.”

The state of Kansas was the first state to name a director for Unmanned Aircraft Systems and an operational Unmanned Traffic Management system in place for state agencies, all 138 airports and 37 institutions of higher education. Kansas has been leading the charge for UAS development and has been a proven leader in this sector. In January, the Kansas delegation led a letter to the DOT advocating for the state to be selected for this pilot program.

“The state of Kansas has a rich history in the aviation industry and will be a strong asset to this pilot program. In the first three years of drone integration, it is predicted that more than 70,000 jobs will be created in the US with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion,” Rep. Roger Marshall, R-KS, said in a release.

KDOT was one of 10 participants that were chosen for this program, including the City of San Diego, California, and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority of Tennessee.

“In my district, K-State Polytechnic is one of the first universities in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in unmanned aircraft systems, this exclusive cutting-edge education shows Kansas is leading in this industry, and with the DOT’s selection I am proud that we will continue to champion this technology,” Marshall said.

The UAS Integration Pilot Program will help tackle the most significant challenges to integrating drones into the national airspace and will reduce risks to public safety and security, according to a DOT website. The program is a coordinated effort to provide certainty and stability to communities, drone owners and the rapidly evolving drone industry. In less than a decade, the potential economic benefit of integrating UAS in the nation’s airspace is estimated at $82 billion and could create 100,000 jobs.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.

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