The FAA announced on Wednesday that it is expanding its UAS Pathfinder Program to include an agreement with CACI International Inc. to evaluate how the company’s technology can help detect UAS in the vicinity of airports. Launched in May of this year, the FAA’s Pathfinder Program allows the FAA to collaborate with industry partners to explore the future of UAS operations beyond what the FAA initially proposed in the small UAS rule released earlier this year.
Testifying before the House Aviation Subcommittee, FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker said that flying an unmanned aircraft near a busy airfield poses an unacceptable safety hazard. During the hearing titled, “Ensuring Aviation Safety in the Era of Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” Whitaker told the congressional panel that the FAA signed an agreement this week to assess the safety and security capabilities of CACI’s product within a five-mile radius of airports and that the agency also will collaborate with its government partners in this effort.
“Safety is always the FAA’s top priority, and we are concerned about the increasing number of instances where pilots have reported seeing unmanned aircraft flying nearby,” said Whitaker. “We are looking forward to working with CACI and our interagency partners to identify and evaluate new technologies that could enhance safety for all users of the nation’s airspace.”
CACI’s prototype UAS sensor detection system will be evaluated at airports selected by the FAA. The FAA and its federal government partners will work with CACI to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology, while also ensuring that it does not interfere with the safety and security of normal airport operations.
While the FAA’s collaboration with CACI will initially focus on detecting UAS in the vicinity of airports, recent incidents involving drone crashes at stadium sporting events illustrate how the benefits of this technology may one day extend far beyond U.S. airports.
CACI will join three other leading U.S. companies currently participating in the FAA’s Pathfinder Program, including CNN, which is exploring how UAS can be used for newsgathering efforts in urban environments; PrecisionHawk, which is testing extended visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas for activities such as crop monitoring in precision agriculture operations; and BNSF Railroad, which is evaluating command-and-control challenges associated with beyond visual-line-of-sight operations.