Feds Launch New Drone Integration Pilot Program

WASHINGTON—Drones are getting a presidential thumbs up, as President Donald Trump has directed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to launch the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. The new initiative will test and validate advance drone operations in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions. The results will be used to accelerate the integration of drones into the national airspace and to realize their benefits in the economy, per the U.S. Department of Transportation’s official announcement.

The program is designed to provide regulatory certainty and stability to local governments and communities, drones owners and operators who are accepted into the program.

For the USDOT and the FAA, the program is seeking to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for more low-altitude operations; identify ways to balance local and national interests; improve communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions; address security and privacy risks; and accelerate the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations.

Specific operations that are expected to be evaluated as part of the program include night operations, flights over people, flights beyond the pilot’s line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies, counter-UAS security operations, and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft.

The USDOT will publish a Federal Register Notice with additional details on applications and how the program will work in the coming days. After evaluating all applications, USDOT will invite a minimum of five partnerships to take part in the program.