Clouds in blue sky


With a strong aerospace presence, partnerships with some of the world’s leading companies, a robust talent pipeline from premier educational institutions, Arizona is the best location in the U.S. for the testing, researching and deployment of UAS into the national airspace system.


Arizona’s innovative environment welcomes cutting-edge technologies that are changing lives for the better. UAS has the potential to save lives, time and money. Below are practical uses of UAS.


In the event of a deadly car crash on an Arizona highway, the Department of Public Safety may have to close the highway—in some cases, in both directions—while officers investigate the accident. It’s possible that closure could last hours, and on some highways, like I-17 for instance, there aren’t many options for detours. In a recent study, the North Carolina Department of Transportation used traditional methods to collect photos and data in a simulated head-on crash, and also used drones.  Traditional methods took nearly two hours. UAS cut the time to 25 minutes. The estimated savings in lost productivity time was $9,300.


The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found at least 35 state departments of transportation are using drones in their daily operations, including the Arizona Department of Transportation. Read more about how ADOT is using technology to keep Arizona highways safe.


Using drones to deliver life-saving medical supplies to remote corners of the world is nothing new. A company called Zipline started send drones carrying blood and drugs to medical centers in Rwanda a couple of years ago. Four-thousand flights later, it expanded into Tanzania. Zipline is eager to spread its wings into the U.S. market and has been eagerly awaiting the FAA designations to do so.


Fortunately, Arizona, being part of a first-world country, doesn’t have the challenges of Rwanda or Tanzania, but there are plenty of remote locations in unfavorable terrain where drone delivery of blood and medical supplies would be not only helpful, but necessary. Coconino County election officials still hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to set up polling places for the Havasupai Tribe after the equipment is flown in by helicopter. Postal workers saddle up mules to deliver the mail to their tiny town of Supai. Imagine how beneficial UAS would be to this tribe, or any of the 21 others in Arizona. Zipline wants to be part of the conversation. Read more about the service Zipline hopes to provide in the U.S.


Early detection of forest fires could save untold lives and property. In fact, state forestry officials believe UAS might have saved the lives of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill fire in 2013. The state didn’t have the technology back then, but forestry officials believe UAS could have not only have tracked the wildfire’s direction and intensity, but could also have served as a communication device among first responders.  


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been using drones to track hurricanes. Long-range UAS can fly as long as 30 hours and 11,000 miles into the heart of a storm, which is something, obviously, a human can’t do, or certainly can’t do safely. The Weather Network reports scientists in America’s “Tornado Alley” are using drones to detect weather patterns, and eventually speed up warning systems, maybe by as much as an hour.    


 The largest canyon on the planet is in Northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon is a magnet for tourists and draws nearly 6 million visitors a year, most of them not familiar with the Canyon, the terrain, the weather conditions and the stamina needed to hike there. In 2016, park rangers conducted 293 search-and-rescue missions and handled 1,200 medical emergencies. Seventeen people died in the Canyon. In 2017, the National Park Service started using drones, most notably, in the search for two hikers who were swept away while trying to cross a creek. While drones weren’t able to locate them, park rangers learned more about the value of that technology that can search in areas unreachable by foot and too dangerous for helicopters. Hobbyist drones, however, are prohibited in Grand Canyon and the other national parks for safety reasons. This is one example of how government is working to regulate this technology that can be life-saving, but has to be limited.  


Using UAS in the film industry may not seem as noble or necessary as search-and-rescue or emergency management applications, but it certainly has an economic affect in this global, multi-billion dollar industry. Drones have become increasingly popular in Hollywood, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. From the opening motorcycle chase scene in Skyfall to all the aerial scenes in Jurassic World, directors love what they’re seeing through the lenses of the cameras on drones. They can fly through trees, or spaces too tight for a helicopter, and they’re much cheaper than a helicopter shoot.  Researchers at MIT have developed a drone system they say can actually replace a camera operator.


As Arizona continues to make inroads in the film industry, an accelerated process for permission to use drones would be a benefit to the industry.  


There’s an acronym those in the UAS business used: BVLOS. It stands for “beyond visual line of site.” Sometimes, it’s shortened to BLOS, for “beyond line of site.” In terms of engineering and construction inspections, it seems that drones were designed just for this type of work. In fact, they’ve been a fixture on industrial sites for some time. Some companies even specialize in the aerial services they offer for particular industries, such as wind turbines, mines, or oil refineries.

Even inspecting and maintaining bridges and other common transportation infrastructure may be better suited for UAS, instead of having a worker climb to a dangerous height or set up equipment along a busy road for a routine maintenance check. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports in 2016, 991 construction workers died on the job, and more than half (63.7%) were from falls. Doctors with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe UAS could help reduce construction deaths not only from falls, but also exposure to toxic chemicals, electrical hazards or vehicle and equipment crashes.


Some believe that agriculture is going to be dominant market for UAS, with the potential for completely revolutionizing and transforming the farm industry. Drones can drop pesticide or fertilizer. They can map the soil in 3-D for further analysis. They can plant and irrigate. Outfit a drone with an infrared camera, and farmers can even determine the health of a plant, and how effective it is with photosynthesis. They can automate almost every step of the process. Goldman Sachs predicts within five years, the agriculture industry will be the largest sector utilizing UAS in the country, and the second-largest in the world.