FAA approves Kansas UAV flight, from pipelines to powerlines

The Kansas Department of Transportation received permission to conduct a beyond-visual-line-of-sight drone operation leveraging onboard detect-and-avoid systems. 

This is the result of the 31-member Kansas UAS Integration Pilot Program team efforts to advance drone technologies.

In a collaborative effort between Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus, Westar Energy, Iris Automation and KDOT, the Kansas IPP team will fly a nine-mile track to evaluate technologies to inspect power lines in rural Kansas. This is the first step to enable routine commercial infrastructure inspection across the state. 

“The UAS industry has worked over 10 years to demonstrate the most significant commercial benefit of drone operations within the United States,” said Bob Brock, KDOT Director of Aviation. “We are proud of the joint state, university and industry team that made this landmark decision possible.”

“The ability to fly BVLOS missions without ground-based radar or visual observers is a significant advancement, and Westar Energy views this as an opportunity to play a  key role in shaping the future of UAS operations within the utility industry,” said Mike Kelly, Westar Energy Senior UAS Coordinator. “Being able to operate under this waiver allows the Kansas IPP team the ability to research and develop truly scalable BVLOS UAS operations for the automated inspection of linear infrastructure.”

The Applied Aviation Research Center on the K-State Polytechnic Campus, which assisted in development of the safety case that ultimately led to FAA approval, will be responsible for the training and flight operations with a cross-functional team from the KDOT IPP. Flights will take place over the next few months, providing the FAA with much-needed data on true BVLOS activity.

The U.S. Department of Transportation selected Kansas Department of Transportation as one of nine participants in the FAA UAS IPP. This program allows state, local and tribal governments to conduct advanced UAS operations to gather data to assist the rulemaking process that will set the boundaries for UAS operations in the United States.

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