Expect more drones to buzz in the skies over Memphis as the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority was picked Wednesday for a federal pilot program ”aimed at shaping the future of drones in America.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation picked the airport authority and nine other organizations for its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.
“We are looking forward to helping today’s winners unlock the enormous potential of drone operations, which will create new services and jobs in their local communities,” said United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.
To get there, airport president and CEO Scott Bockman said his team lined up a diverse group of partners for this “tremendous opportunity.”
Those partners include the City of Memphis, Agricenter International, the University of Memphis, the Tennessee Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics, FedEx Corp., GE subsidiaries AirXOS and Avitas, Intel, Flirtey, 901Drones, Express Drone Parts, and ForeverReady Productions.
The team will conduct drone operations over people and in situations where drones go beyond the line of sight of operators. Operations will occur in five different Memphis airspaces for drones weighing 55 pounds or less.
Here’s the airport’s breakdown of those airspaces and the operations:
The airport will operate UAS for perimeter security and to detect foreign object debris on runways/taxiways.
Airspaces 2 and 3:
FedEx will operate UAS to inspect aircrafts, asset tracking, facility security, and emergency response. FedEx will also utilize UAS to deliver small aircraft parts on a defined path in the north ramp area. UAS will not operate over any person other than authorized personnel during walk-around and inspections and (beyond visual line of sight) for the other use cases.
The airspace will cover Shelby Farms, Agricenter International, as well as the Wolf and Mississippi Rivers. Operations will include precision agriculture, environmental protection, infrastructure protection, and package delivery for medical needs within Shelby Farms. UAS will operate at night and (beyond visual line of sight).
The City of Memphis will operate UAS within airspace that includes the Liberty Bowl. The use cases will include infrastructure inspection, public safety, and medical deliveries. Operations will include (beyond visual line of sight), night and over people.
Additionally, Memphis’ communication infrastructure is currently based on 4G, with the Smart City initiative seeking 5G implementation. Testing will determine variation in coverage for UAS between 4G and 5G with visual line of sight before flying (beyond visual line of sight).
For more information on the program, the airport, the city, and the county government plan to have three public meetings to educate the public.
for more information about the UAS Integration Pilot Program.