Partnership aims to manage drone traffic in Kansas skies

The Kansas Department of Transportation and a California-based tech firm are partnering on a statewide air traffic management system for drones.

Santa Monica-based AirMap and KDOT announced the partnership Tuesday, which they said will provide for safe operation of drones in Kansas airspace by allowing operators to see each other’s real-time drone operations by way of a software application that’s free to download on computers and mobile devices.

“This system is operational right now, today,” said Bob Brock, director of unmanned aerial systems for KDOT Aviation. “And as quickly as our airports and universities want to use the system in their airspace, we will make that happen.”

The AirMap service, which is free to users, is aimed at improving safe and legal drone operations by commercial users and hobbyists. The service provides operators with real time information about areas where there may be temporary or other flight restrictions, as well as any active drone operations. Eventually, Brock said, it will allow them one place to communicate with airports about nearby drone operations.

“We believe this is a first step to be able to demonstrate it’s very possible to communicate and operate drones in a confined airspace, in a safe way,” he said. “There are a few regulations and policies that the FAA will need to make a decision about … (but) these systems will be available to ATC (air traffic control).”

Brock said KDOT is paying licensing and other fees to AirMap for the service, under a strategic partnership. They are paid for through funds designated for promoting air traffic safety in the state, he said.

“I have spoken with a number of UAS operators that use AirMap in the state … and they say it’s incredibly efficient and simple, and makes their ability to operate much safer and smoother,” Brock said.

AirMap CEO Ben Macus said in an e-mail to The Eagle that his company’s partnership with Kansas — its first partnership with a state government — could increase Kansas’ attractiveness to drone manufacturers.

“AirMap and KDOT can make Kansas a place where we can test sophisticated … technologies and support drone companies as they develop solutions for the drone ecosystem,” Macus said.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark

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