Gov. Whitmer announces air mobility corridor development

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the first-of-its-kind drone technology study in three proposed areas between Michigan and Ontario, southeast Michigan, and any other suitable location.

Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Michigan Aeronautics Commission, the state and Ontario will explore whether small drones can be flown beyond a pilot’s line of sight and harnessed for just-in-time delivery like medical transport. The study will further decision-making for the future of advanced air mobility in North America.

“Cross-border partnership is critical across all dimensions of mobility, including aerial systems. Michigan and Ontario have a rich history of partnering on groundbreaking innovations and this project by Air Space Link continues that tradition,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Considering the density of auto suppliers, logistic companies, technology start-ups, and consumers in the region, it is a natural fit to test this cutting-edge aerial technology here. The vital research could lead to faster product deliveries and reduced supply chain disruptions in the future, helping us grow Michigan’s economy and put Michiganders first.”

A newly formed partnership with Airspace Link, a Detroit-based drone technology start-up, and Thales USA, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Aviation Innovations LLC, CityFi, and Grand Sky Development Co. LLC will develop a feasibility analysis.

Another partner in two of the three proposed areas will be the Michigan Central Mobility Innovation District in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood that will help advance this research and innovation to a broader idea of autonomy.

“Michigan Central’s aim really is to serve as an open platform for collaboration – drawing the best minds from around the world to co-create and test mobility solutions on real-world streets, in real-world situations,” Michigan Central Development Director Carolina Pluszczynski said in a statement. “That includes, in this case, bringing in the best from here in the States and also across the way to Ontario to push the boundaries of how we look at autonomy as part of this aerial mobility corridor. But no matter what we’re exploring, the ideas or solutions need to have one ultimate purpose: to improve access and equity for all, and that is why community engagement from the offset will always remain key to us.”

The Airspace Link team will analyze the economic impact, air traffic infrastructure, and ground infrastructure required to ensure commercial drone skyway safety.

“This unmanned aerial system joint venture with Ontario builds on the extensive work underway to make Michigan a global leader in the development and deployment of mobility technologies that will benefit society, protect the environment, and strengthen our economy,” State Transportation Director Paul C. Ajegba said in a statement. “We look forward to demonstrating beyond visual line of sight commercial UAS operations are not only safe, efficient and feasible, but also that the technology can be employed to better connect the intermodal transportation system that many in Michigan rely upon.”

More than half of Michigan’s automotive suppliers test automated vehicles. Michigan offers more than 600 miles of roadway equipped for connected vehicle testing, and is building a new 40-mile corridor project.

“New and emerging transportation technologies offer enormous potential to improve the way we move people and goods,” Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney said in a statement. “Ontario is a leader in connected and automated vehicle technologies, and working together with Michigan, we are taking important steps to explore how drones can be used to safely ship goods.”

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