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Trump Announces Drone Integration Pilot Program

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by Patrick J. Paul

On October 25, President Trump issued a memorandum directing Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao to launch an initiative to safely test and validate advanced operations for drones in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program is intended to address the most significant challenges in integrating drones into the national airspace while reducing risks to public safety and security. The program is designed to provide regulatory certainty and stability to local governments and communities, and to UAS owners and operators. The Trump administration estimates the potential economic benefit of integrated unmanned aerial systems into the nation’s airspace at up to $82 billion, including the creation of up to 100,000 jobs.

Those seeking participation in the program will form teams as Lead Applicants and Interested Parties and submit proposals to the FAA to fly more advanced UAS operations, such as beyond visual line-of-sight or over people. There are two ways to take part in the program — as a Lead Applicant and/or an Interested Party. Lead Applicants are required to be state, local, or tribal government entities, while Interested Parties are prospective public and private sector applicants, but also similarly could be governmental entities.

In order to participate, the following deadlines must be observed:

  • By 2:00 pm ET, November 28, 2017: Lead Applicants submit a Notice of Intent  to the FAA
  • By 2:00 pm ET, December 13, 2017: Lead Applicants complete volumes I and II in the application portal
  • By 2:00 pm ET, December 13, 2017: All interested entities can request to be included on the Interested Parties List
  • By 2:00 pm ET, January 4, 2018: Lead Applicants complete volumes III, IV, V, and VI in the application portal

The Trump memo observes that the private sector has rapidly advanced UAS capabilities to address the needs of recreational, commercial, and public users and that the FAA already has taken steps to integrate UAS into the national airspace system alongside manned aircraft at specific test sites and maintains that a coordinated effort between the private sector and all levels of government will provide certainty and stability to UAS owners and operators while enhancing the public benefits of UAS technologies.

The program is intended to help the USDOT and FAA develop a regulatory framework that will allow more complex 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.