The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) will receive $1.1 million of the $3.3 million in research, education and training grants awarded to universities that comprise FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE).

The UAH grant is being awarded as the lead institution for disaster preparedness and response research to provide insight into the safe integration of UAS into the disaster preparedness and response areas.

The research will look at how UAS can aid in disaster preparedness and response to different natural and human-made disasters. It will focus on procedures to coordinate with the Department of Interior, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal, local and state organizations to ensure proper coordination during those emergencies.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decision to award UAH a $1.1 million grant to effectively deploy drones in response to emergencies is a testament to the innovative work taking place in the Huntsville community,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. “I am grateful the Department of Transportation continues to invest in our state, promoting work that integrates education, industry and government. I look forward to the developments and research at UAH made possible by this grant.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the FAA research grants on Aug. 6.

“These grants will help develop a greater array of innovative strategies to more effectively deploy drones during emergency response situations,” said Chao.

The FAA’s COE program, authorized by Congress, is a long-term, cost-sharing partnership among academia, industry and government. The program enables the FAA to work with center members and affiliates to conduct research in airspace and airport planning and design, environment and aviation safety. The COE also allows the FAA to engage other transportation-related activities.

There are currently 1.65 million recreational and commercial drones in the active UAS fleet. That number is expected to grow to as high as 2.31 million by 2024. The ASSURE grants are aimed at continuing the safe and successful integration of drones into the nation’s airspace.

“Collaboration is hugely important as we work to safely integrate UAS into the aerospace system,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said. “These important grants fund the research which allows us to learn and implement the safety measures associated with UAS operations in the airspace.”