The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is partnering with three leading U.S. companies who have committed extensive resources to perform research that will help the agency determine if and how they can safely expand unmanned aircraft operations in the United States.
The partnering effort, known as Pathfinder Program, was announced
by FAA Administrator Michael Hureta on Wednesday at the Unmanned Systems 2015 conference in Atlanta, Ga.
“The unmanned aircraft industry is changing faster than any
segment of the aviation industry,” Hureta said. “People are
finding new ways to use these devices on almost a daily basis.”
Three companies reached out to the FAA to work with the agency and
explore three key types of unmanned operations.
CNN will be researching how visual line-of-sight operations might
be used for newsgathering in urban areas.
PrecisionHawk, a manufacturer, will be surveying crops in rural
areas using unmanned aircraft flying outside of the pilot’s direct
BNSF Railroad will explore the challenges of using these vehicles
to inspect their rail infrastructure beyond visual line-of-sight in
“We anticipate receiving valuable data from each of these trials
that could result in FAA-approved operations in the next few years,”
Hureta said. “They will also give insight into how unmanned
aircraft can be used to transform the way certain industries do
business – whether that means making sure trains run on time,
checking on the health of crops, or reporting on a natural disaster.
“Integrating unmanned aircraft into our airspace is a big job,
and it’s one the FAA is determined to get right. Earlier this year,
we took an important step forward by releasing a proposed rule that
laid out a flexible framework for allowing the routine use of small
unmanned aircraft. It included a number of common sense provisions,
like not flying near airports, at night, or more than 500 feet off
the ground. It also recommended requiring the operator to be able to
see the unmanned vehicle at all times.
“The FAA received more than 4,000 public comments on the
proposal, and we’re working to address them before finalizing the
“This, however, takes time – so we’re actively looking for
other ways to expand the use of unmanned aircraft in the meantime.
We’re receiving valuable information from our six national test
sites. We’re also accommodating requests for some commercial
operations. The Pathfinder program is our latest step in the right
direction – and I’m eager to see the results.”