FAA Is Ready to Put $6M into Certain Drone Innovations

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The agency announced a call for white papers to kick off its new five-year, open submission contract.

If your company has some funding and an innovative idea for integrating drones into commercial airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration has a matching $6 million and designated test sites available to help develop those ideas.

The FAA released a five-year broad agency announcement Tuesday asking for white papers. The solicitation will stay open through June 2, 2024—unless FAA officials decide to end it early—and the program office will be accepting white papers throughout.

While the BAA is open and allows for the agency to make full awards for certain proposals, FAA issued a direct call for cost-sharing partners to kick off the effort with a $6 million match.

“A company has to demonstrate an existing contractual relationship with or show that FAA funding would enable it to enter into a contract with a test site,” according to an agency announcement.

The agency expects to make at least seven awards off this call, though plans could change depending on the submissions. Regardless of the number of awards made, the total funding match approved by Congress for this effort is capped at $6 million. Individual awards are expected to range from $425,000 to $850,000.

White papers for that opportunity are due by June 28, with full proposals due by July 31. FAA officials expect to make awards on that call by the end of September.

Questions are due by June 7.

As part of the current call and the wider BAA, the agency is looking for technologies that are past the initial research stage but are still right on the edge of viability. Specifically, the BAA calls for ideas that have reached Technology Readiness Levels 5 through 7, which range from pre-prototype but ready for simulation testing to full prototypes at or near operational.

White papers should include a high-level description of what the technology accomplishes—“using absolutely no jargon,” the solicitation warns—and how it differs from current approaches.

The BAA covers 10 specific areas, plus a catch-all for other relevant topics. The 10 research areas including:

  • Develop and enforce geographic and altitude limitations, known as geo-fencing.
  • Provide for alerts by the manufacturer of an unmanned aircraft system regarding any hazards or limitations on flight, including prohibition on flight as necessary.
  • Detection and avoid capabilities.
  • Beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, or BVLOS.
  • Nighttime operations.
  • Operations over people.
  • Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems.
  • Unmanned aircraft systems traffic management, or UTM.
  • Improve privacy protections through the use of advances in unmanned aircraft systems technology.

The work will occur at seven designated UAS test sites across the country: University of Alaska Fairbanks, North Dakota Department of Commerce, New Mexico State University, Griffiss International Airport in New York, State of Nevada, Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.