DETROIT (Michigan News Source) – A newly defined airspace region surrounding Michigan Central will facilitate commercial drone testing to develop technology required to fly drones beyond the pilot’s line of sight.

“Michigan is on the cutting-edge of mobility innovation, and with the launch of the new Advanced Aerial Innovation Region in Detroit, we will continue leading the way,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said of the initiative. “Michiganders … are taking to the skies, finding new ways to use next-generation transportation to deliver medical supplies, food and so much more.”

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Current federal regulations prohibit drone flight beyond the pilot’s line of sight — an operation known to drone pilots as BVLOS — without a waiver granted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Recent months have seen an increase in waivers for activities such as power line inspection, package delivery, and technology development.

Yet, the process remains clouded by obscure legal requirements and questions about the safety of BVLOS technology.

“The whole industry wants to see the FAA get to a rule for BVLOS, something that’s codified and printed in a book and that’s clear about what we need to comply with,” Iris Automation CEO Jon Damush told Inside Unmanned Systems earlier this year. “That will open the market up, but it’s not a fast process.”

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Michigan’s two-year Advanced Aerial Innovation Region project will kick off next year in partnership with Newlab, a company that assists startups, and Airspace Link, a company that helps private and commercial drone pilots plan and get waivers for unmanned operations.

“Newlab is focused on breaking down the barriers that deep tech startups face getting technology to market,” said Newlab Chief Business Officer Liz Keen. “Policy is the most significant barrier for advanced aerial mobility startups.”

Michigan has already investigated the possibility of flying BVLOS drones in key corridors between Michigan and Ontario, a 2022 cross-border project for transporting goods that will be continued with the new initiative.

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“Ontario has a strong and strategically important economic connection with the State of Michigan,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said of the original partnership. “We welcome this opportunity to further deepen that relationship and foster new jobs and economic opportunities in developing industries now and well into the future.”