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Feds Collaborate With NASA for Drone Traffic Plan

Aug 30, 2016 03:12 AM EDT

NASA is on its second phase in its four-step plan of setting up small drones used for commercial purposes. The space agency will be presenting its research to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by 2019.

The space agency's project is to set up small drones set to fly under 500 feet. These drones would be used by commercial companies like Google and Amazon. Once set up, the virtual system (air management plan also known as UTM) would help drone operators deal with obstacles such as weather conditions, air congestion, and restricted air space.

An estimated 7 million drones are planned to be in operation, which also includes 2.6 million aircrafts all for commercial purposes. NASA's project is on its second phase that involves testing flights beyond the visual line-of-sight of the drone operator.

"Those are big numbers," stated John Cavolowsky, the director of NASA's Airspace Operations and Safety Program, adding, "Frankly I think they are underestimating the size of the opportunity that we are going to be facing."

Stuart Rudolph, president of Smart C2 which is a software to help drones operators manage their fleet, adds that the space agency managing the UTM would make sense - given NASA manages the integration of manned and unmanned aircraft for their missions to Mars.

"This going to be quite different from the traffic management system we look at today, when we get on a commercial plane. It is totally controlled," explained Rudolph, noting that NASA understands "the space from top to bottom and all the different pieces."

Also in on NASA's UTM plan are a wealth of private companies. Nicholas Flom, the director of safety for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site states the first phase of the UTM project involved a number of drone operators across the country. These include North Dakota, New York, Maryland, Texas, Nevada, and Alaska. Around 24 drones took part in the three-hour test back in April.

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