Drone pilot program to help state, local governments weigh in on UAS integration

 

On Oct. 25, President Trump directed U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao to launch the Innovative Drone Integration Pilot Program, an initiative which will “safely test and validate advanced operations” for UAS in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions.

The move is seen as a way to give state and local governments some say in regulating UAS use, while not pre-empting the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration to oversee the nation’s airspace.

“The creation of this pilot program represents an opportunity for state, local, and tribal governments, along with the UAS industry, to collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to further develop a federal policy framework for integrating UAS into the skies above communities across the nation,” comments Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI.

“More and more businesses are embracing UAS to expand and enhance their product and service offerings. This growing demand illustrates a new renaissance in aviation and technology, which will require sustained collaboration and support by government at all levels.”

The program implements a directive signed by the president, and its results will be used to accelerate the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace, and ultimately realize the benefits of this technology for the U.S. economy.

The program will look to address some of the key challenges associated with integrating UAS into the national airspace, while reducing risks to public safety and security. It is designed to provide those that are accepted into the program — local governments and communities, UAS owners and operators — with regulatory certainty and stability.

The program will help the United States Department of Transportation and FAA develop a regulatory framework that will provide a number of benefits, including facilitating more complex low-altitude operations; identifying ways to balance both local and national interests; improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; addressing security and privacy risks; and speeding up the approval time of operations that currently require special authorizations.

“This program supports the president’s commitment to foster technological innovation that will be a catalyst for ideas that have the potential to change our day-to-day lives,” Secretary Chao says. “Drones are proving to be especially valuable in emergency situations, including assessing damage from natural disasters such as the recent hurricanes and the wildfires in California.”

Several operational concepts will be evaluated through the program, such as flights over people, flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight, and operations at night, to name a few.

A variety of industries such as emergency management, infrastructure inspections and monitoring, and commerce “could see immediate opportunities from the program,” according to the White House.

“Stakeholders will have the opportunity through this program to demonstrate how their innovative technological and operational solutions can address complex unmanned aircraft integration challenges,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “At the same time, the program recognizes the importance of community participation in meaningful discussions about balancing local and national interests related to integrating unmanned aircraft.”

Wynne adds, “the pilot program will offer a data-driven approach to allow for expanded UAS operations, including beyond line of sight, and UAS traffic management concepts. It will also provide a mechanism for state, local and tribal officials to contribute their views to the UAS policy framework, without infringing on the U.S. government’s jurisdiction over the national airspace. Maintaining federal authority of the airspace will help foster innovation and allow states, municipalities and tribes to tap into the full potential of UAS, while continuing to keep our skies safe.”

To develop pilot proposals, prospective local government participants are encouraged to partner with the private sector.

The Department of Transportation will evaluate all of the applications, and then invite at least five partnerships.

More details about how applications will be evaluated and how the program will work will be available in the coming days when the Department publishes a Federal Register Notice.

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