President Trump and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program today -- an initiative aimed at exploring expanded use of drones. While the Obama administration began allowing some drone activity to take place in US airspace, a fair amount of restrictions were still applicable. This new program, however, will allow companies and local governments to use drones in ways that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently doesn't allow. That includes "beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights, nighttime operations, and flights over people," as White House advisor Michael Kratsios said today.
"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. 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," Secretary Chao said in a statement. Kratsios also said that it could "open the skies for delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, support for emergency management operations."
The US is still figuring out how best to manage drone technology. Recently, regulations of local governments were pitted against those of the FAA, with the FAA coming out on top, and the FAA is currently trying to change the system that approves drone flights in restricted airspace. This test program could help national and local regulators figure out the best way to manage drones going forward. It could also help commercial companies itching to start delivering packages by drone. Amazon, 7-Eleven, Google and UPS have all expressed interest in using drones for delivery purposes and some of them have already started to do so. Amazon made its first delivery last year in the UK while 7-Eleven has made dozens of deliveries in Nevada using Flirtey's services. France, Canada, Switzerland and Iceland are all working on incorporating permanent drone delivery systems.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) said in a statement, "The pilot program will evaluate a variety of operational concepts, including 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." In order to participate in the program, local governments should partner with private sector groups and develop proposals. The DOT will then select at least five proposals for participation. More information on how to apply and how the program will function will be released in the next few days.