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October 25, the Trump Administration announced a new pilot program to spur development of UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) commonly known as drones. The administration unveiled a pilot program to encourage greater integration of UAS into United States airspace. The program establishes “innovation zones” where methods can be tested and assessed for safety and effectiveness.

Promoters of UAS interests believe that this is a “smart way” for the administration to proceed with testing and integrating drones into airspace.

In general, the FAA has been responsible for regulation and control of airspace, but that applies only above certain altitudes and not in all places. The UAS industry for local airspace has largely remained in limbo. The administration wants to change that and offer local communities the opportunity to enjoy the advances that UAS can bring to local economies.

Due to FAA restrictions on UAS, prohibiting flight for the most part over crowds, at night, and beyond line of sight of the operator, some of the gains that could be realized have been stalled. One in particular is drone deliveries to individual homes, a possibility of particular interest to Amazon.

The new memorandum from the Trump administration offers communities the chance to partner with the Federal government and a private partner, and create their own regulatory space. These will become “innovation zones” where greater integration of drone craft, manned aircraft, and urban life can be tested and refined.

“America’s skies are changing – UAS now outnumber manned aircraft, which had dominated our airspace since World War II,” said Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant to the President at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.Donald Trump at West Wing

The memorandum spells out that the goal of this change is “To promote continued technological innovation and to ensure the global leadership of the United States in this emerging industry, the regulatory framework for UAS operations must be sufficiently flexible to keep pace with the advancement of UAS technology while balancing the vital Federal roles in protecting privacy and civil liberties; mitigating risks to national security and homeland security; and protecting the safety of the American public, critical infrastructure, and the Nation’s airspace.”

In order to accomplish these laudable goals, the Secretary of Transportation has been directed to create the UAS Integration Pilot Program.

The program will solicit proposals from State, local and tribal governments to test UAS integrations systems. Proposals that are selected may be able to waive some FAA requirements and involve granting exceptions to local government rules and regulations. The program is to have at least five proposals ready to go within 6 months.

In granting the go-ahead to proposals, the administration directs the program to consider the following.

  • Economic, geographic, and climate diversity
  • Diversity of proposed models of government involvement
  • Diversity of UAS operations to be conducted
  • Location of critical infrastructure
  • Involvement of commercial entities and suitable objectives on their part
  • Involvement of affected communities and their support
  • Commitment of governments and UAS operators to comply with requirements
  • Commitment of governments and UAS operators to achieve stated policy objectives

The policy objectives set forth by the government are to promote innovation and economic development, enhance transportation safety, enhance workplace safety, improve emergency response, and use radio spectrum efficiently.

Promoters of UAS interests believe that this is a “smart way” for the administration to proceed with testing and integrating drones into airspace. It will allow for real world data capture that can help guide administration policy in the future.

Doug Johnson, of the Consumer Technology Association, said the program will lead to, “100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact.”