As small drones have become increasingly commonplace, so have reports of close calls by airliners. A recent FAA report tallied the average at four sightings a day, a five-fold increase from the year before. To help address the issue, the American Association of Airport Executives, a trade group representing 850 of the largest airports around the US, has partnered with a startup called AirMap on a Digital Notice and Awareness System, or D-NAS for short. AirMap will collect data from participating pilots flying popular consumer brands like DJI, 3D-Robotics, and Yuneec, then automatically upload that data to a web portal air traffic controllers can access securely.
"We think that, through the manufacturers, we are reaching approximately 80 percent of the world’s drones, helping millions of people," says Ben Marcus, the co-founder and CEO of Airmap. Drones from the big names integrate with Airmap through an SDK that links into their respective mobile apps. "We also have an app of our own coming out, so that people who own a drone outside the big three manufacturers can also use our service." Along with the recent airport partnership, Airmap announced this morning that it has raised a $15 million series A round of venture capital funding, an investment led by General Catalyst Partners.
"A no brainer for us."
Up to this point, there was basically no way for drone operators to communicate with local airports. "Participation in the D-NAS pilot was a no-brainer for us. In the face of growing concerns over UAS operations near airports, AirMap has developed an effective and unique solution," said Steve Runge, division manager for the Houston Airport System. "D-NAS is a game changer for how we will manage low altitude air safety."
Recent news from the FAA indicates that AirMap will have a lot more work on its hands in the near future. A committee assembled by the agency released a report yesterday that urges adoption of much more permissive and flexible regulations, allowing for operation of small drones over cities and even crowds. If the FAA moves quickly to adopt this new approach (as they have with previous committee recommendations), it would pave the way for large scale operations, like the drone delivery programs Amazon and Google have been working on.