The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a new flight corridor in central Virginia for unnamed aircraft testing.
The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership has received a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration for research flights up to 7,000 feet in altitude in an area of nearly 5,000 square miles in central Virginia.
The first flight under the new Certificate of Authorization was conducted successfully on May 11, according to a Virginia Tech media release.
The newly authorized airspace covers more than 10 percent of the land area in the state and includes a unique set of critical infrastructure such as airports, power plants, electric lines, energy pipelines, and rail lines, officials said.
Researchers said the new Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight corridor will accelerate testing and development of further safe commercial integration of unmanned aircraft systems.
Researchers are expected to explore the safety and feasibility of flights beyond the visual line of sight, Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership representatives said.
The Certificate of Authorization includes land in Buckingham, Nottoway, Cumberland, Fluvanna, Prince Edward, Charlotte, Appomattox, Louisa, Goochland, Powhatan, Amelia, Lunenburg, Halifax, Pittsylvania, and Campbell counties.
“Getting that large an area in the mid-Atlantic region is significant,” said Rose Mooney, the executive director of the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, which is headquartered at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. “We’re in the heart of aviation country: we have a lot of flights, a lot of infrastructure, and a lot going on. If we can do these types of flights safely here, we can do them virtually anywhere.”
Virginia Tech is a leader in unmanned aircraft systems research, which has led to pioneering work across disciplines, from agriculture to journalism to emergency management.
The university also oversees one of only six national test sites for unmanned aircraft systems in the country. Some of the university’s groundbreaking missions include the first research flights investigating medical supply delivery to remote locations and work with NASA towards a traffic management system for unmanned aircraft.