By John Celock
Kansas officials have announced a partnership with a California based company that will set up the first statewide unmanned aerial systems traffic management system in the nation.
The state Department of Transportation announced this week that the state will partner with AirMap, a California based company, to implement the statewide system. State aviation officials say that partnership will allow for the state’s burgeoning UAS sector to grow.
“The key takeaway from this partnership is that drones currently do not have an efficient way to communicate with those responsible for air space,” Kansas UAS Director Robert Brock told The Celock Report. “This tool connects all drone operators and air space responsible parties in one seamless communication system.”
According to Brock, the partnership will involve AirMap providing technology to the state to allow for more communication between the drones and air traffic control. Currently, procedures for air traffic management rely on drone operators communicating directly with air traffic control along with visual line of site rules for drone operators.
Brock said that airports, state agencies and higher educational institutions in the state will have access to the AirMap technology for use in drone air traffic management. The technology from AirMap will allow for a statewide UAS air traffic management system that includes communication safety information from state and local agencies to drones for flight planning and awareness, increasing communications between drone operators and government, increasing awareness about drone regulations, automating the airspace notification for airports in the state, technology for geofencing and remote identification for drones to increase privacy and safety and helping to enable operations outside of line of site rules.
Brock said that KDOT has been looking for a technology partner to develop a statewide UAS air traffic management system and found AirMap’s system to be one that allowed them to bring it to a statewide scale quickly.
“The biggest impact is that we will be able to operate in a cooperative manner using efficient communication as the method to protect the drone operator from liability and the manned aviator from unnecessary danger,” he said.
Kansas has seen a growing UAS industry in the state, primarily centered at Kansas Polytechnic University in Salina, but with other sites around the state. The UAS industry has included the creation of a statewide UAS research triangle amongst the several state universities and FAA certification of a training center in the state. State officials have been focused on expanding the industry for economic development. Much of the drone research and development at KState Poly has been focused on the use of drones in agricultural, homeland security and emergency management settings.
State officials said that Kansas being home to the first statewide drone air traffic management will help position the state for growth in the sector.
“Kansas is again leading the way in UAS and it’s important that we take this opportunity seriously as it relates to research and development and premium wage job creation,” said state House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who has been focused on UAS economic development issues.
Kansas has been one of several states focused on the UAS industry, along with North Dakota and Oklahoma. All three states have higher education programs focused on UAS research and development and have created statewide policy programs on the issue. North Dakota has created a research and development program at the University of North Dakota, including making UAS a focus for state aviation officials. Oklahoma officials have put UAS and innovation issues in the hands of a state cabinet official.
Brock told The Celock Report that he believes that the creation of a statewide air traffic management for drones in Kansas can make the state a model to other states.
“We really believe that because general aviation is such a major industry in Kansas, it is important to us to lead this effort in a way that sets an important standard for the country,” Brock said. “We believe that by taking a leadership role we can demonstrate to other states to help create a seamless unmanned air traffic system around the country.”