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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


City of San Diego, EDC bid for FAA drone program

March 29, 2018

By Jesse Gipe, senior economic development manager

Across San Diego in the coming months, you may see a drone mapping a fire in real time, delivering a snack from your favorite fast food chain to your doorstep, dropping off a package in your neighbor’s front yard, transforming regional fireworks shows into digital storytelling platforms, or delivering medical samples to a lab reducing patient wait time in local ERs. This is all because of unique regional collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

In 2010, EDC, in partnership with SDMAC and other institutions, assessed our regional defense industry to better understand what facets of our defense ecosystem were most resilient to decline even as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drew down. Drones were identified as one of the major technology areas in which the region had unique expertise and would continue to be acquired by the Department of Defense. Subsequently, EDC has worked on a variety of initiatives to support the development of this evolving industry.

By 2022, the FAA estimates that 451,800 commercial drones – up from just over 100,000 in 2017 – will be flying across our skies performing a wide variety of unique tasks that will change our day to day lives. This growth is being driven by companies already solving problems like critical infrastructure inspection, incident response, and real-time fire management. In addition to very serious use cases, drones are now transforming Olympic Opening Ceremonies, delivering medical supplies to those in need, and acting as valuable sensor nodes for smart city infrastructure. With so many exciting use cases, you may wonder why we don’t see more drones flown by companies as opposed to your 14-year-old neighbor across the street.

The reality is that the U.S. airspace is a complex web of overlapping operations that remains one of the statistically safest things you can do. The FAA, who has the responsibility of adjusting rules to allow drones in the national airspace, is laser-focused on safety. With this, the FAA is also very conscious of the opportunity that drones present for all types of industry and use cases.

To expedite industry demand, the FAA and Department of Transportation launched a new program in November 2017 called the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integrated Pilot Program (IPP). This project asked local and state governments to submit a detailed application in partnership with industry outlining how they could partner to demonstrate a variety of technologies critical for flying safely in and around people in more urban and suburban environments.

The City of San Diego offices of homeland security and economic development, supported by EDC, put together a competitive application in response to IPP. The application was supported by academic, government, and nonprofit partners including the Port of San Diego, City of Chula Vista, UC San Diego Health, Governors Military Council, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Palomar Community College, Coleman University, and AUVSI. Just as importantly, the application included corporate support from Qualcomm, AT&T, UBER, Intel, GE, Matternet, AirMap, CAPE, and others.  These companies each have tremendous technical experience in the underlying fields essential to the development of the drone industry and have proposed a series of truly Life. Changing. use cases.

With the application submitted, San Diego alongside the other 149 applicants from across the country are waiting to hear from the FAA. Stay tuned to find who will be among the final 10 selected to move forward with IPP in May 2018.