Drone Delivery is One Step Closer with Trump Pilot Program

Claude Paris/AP

The Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration will allow state and local governments to set up drone innovation zones.

President Donald Trump wants to kick off an ambitious pilot program that would let state and local governments test out drones in ways “overly burdensome” Federal Aviation Administration regulations prevented.

So far, about 600,000 drone owners in the U.S. have registered with the FAA, but regulations are limiting the benefits the systems may have on new jobs and the economy, according to an Office of Science and Technology Policy blog post published Wednesday.

“The result of these regulations on our nation’s most innovative companies has been to force their programs overseas, where UAS testing and deployment is less restricted,” OTSP said.

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With Transportation Department approval, state and local governments could set up “innovation zones” for drones to test them outside the visual line of sight, at night and over people—all of which are restricted under FAA regulations without waivers.

“Restrictions on flights for obvious safety and security reasons, such as near airports and other highly sensitive areas, will not be affected,” the OSTP said.

Addressed to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Trump’s memorandum noted such a pilot program would allow for greater drone use in “agriculture, commerce, emergency management, human transportation and other sectors,” and could provide “novel, low cost capabilities” for the public and private sectors.

Within 90 days of the memo, Chao is directed to meet with the FAA administrator to formally establish the pilot program, which would adjudicate proposals for drone operations below 200 feet above the ground or up to 400 feet above the ground.

FAA regulations should be “sufficiently flexible to keep pace with the advancement of [unmanned aircraft systems] 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,” the memo read.

Waivers for FAA restrictions would be granted to the state, local and tribal governments if appropriate. If approved, the agency applying would be a “sponsor,” ensuring that drone flights are safe and also gathering feedback that could inform federal drone regulations, according to the OSTP post.

OSTP also encourages those governments to work with the private sector on such pilot projects.

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