Thursday, December 14, 2023

FCC approves drone airspace expansion in Romulus

It isn't exactly Star Wars yet, but the future of specific airspace use and drone delivery service is now possible in the City of Romulus.

Romulus Director of Community Safety and Development Kevin Krause received official approval last week from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a significant expansion of drone airspace near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, located in the city. The FAA implementation of the proposed changes to the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) grid ceilings near DTW has now considerably expanded airspace accessibility. 

The new grid ceiling enables drone operators to receive immediate flight authorizations, enhancing community access to the airspace. This update has modified 22 percent of the flight grids from zero to a minimum of 5-foot ceilings, improving accessibility across 13.92 square miles of the city. This change affects more than 32 percent of Romulus, Krause explained, primarily in commercial and residential areas, positively impacting more than 5,500 Romulus residents.   

The expansion will have a major impact on a number of fronts in the city, Krause said.

“This is another step moving the city forward. This will have an impact on economic development in the city as companies can be near international airport airspace. With new drone technology and proposed drone delivery systems, companies will want to be around FedEx, UPS, Amazon and others already located in the city,” Krause said.

He added that the expansion of the usable airspace for drones will also impact the school district as programs for drone pilots could be added to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs already in the schools. 

Krause said while this expansion of drone airspace was facilitated by officials from the FAA, it was instigated by Romulus officials who authorized funding from the Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) in the city and partnered with Airspace Link to advocate for the expansion and changes. Krause said the combined efforts ensured the airspace enhancements aligned with the safety needs of the local community and the airport. 

“This initiative propels Romulus businesses and its community to the forefront of the rapidly growing drone industry,” Krause said. He added that there is some discussion about the possibility of applying for a grant to open a drone park in the city. This would offer the opportunity for potential pilots to learn how to operate the aircraft in controlled space. 

Krause stressed that the active participation of the city in the Detroit Region Aerotropolis, a collaborative effort to transform the region into a manufacturing, logistics, and aviation hub, was crucial in the expansion process. The involvement in the Aerotropolis initiative to integrate drone technology into regional infrastructure significantly contributed to the success of the airspace changes, he said. 

Following extensive research and analysis conducted with Airspace Link, Romulus identified optimal areas for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations. 

This expanded airspace access is expected to unlock a wealth of economic opportunities, Krause said,  enabling local businesses and individuals to explore various UAS technologies. The applications are diverse, encompassing everything from medical and package delivery to infrastructure inspection and public safety use cases.