New drone program launched by Transportation Dept

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States can now take advantage of a pilot program launched by the Department of Transportation. The program, officially launched Thursday, will allow the testing of new types of drone operations, including package deliveries.

Under President Donald J. Trump’s direction, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created a pilot program which would allow state and local governments to propose expanded drone operations. Those operations can now include flights over people, nighttime operations and flying beyond the visual line of sight, previously prohibited activities.

“These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package deliveries, emergency drone inspections, and more, on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Thursday as the agency announced the kick-off.

The three-year program allows localities to partner with the private sector to test innovatation in the area of drone operation. The FAA will then determine whether to accept them into the pilot program on a case-by-case basis. The drones could be used for various activities, such as disaster response, mapping, agriculture and delivery of goods.

The change is sure to draw the attention of companies like Amazon and Google, who were prevented from conducting delivery testing in the U.S. Amazon has been testing drones in the United Kingdom, after FAA approval to conduct drone delivery testing in the U.S. proved to be too slow.

According to a statement released by the White House, “The United States’ antiquated regulatory system for aviation has been too slow to keep up with the pace of the technology.”

Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said: “America’s skies are changing. Our aviation regulatory framework has not kept pace with this change.”

According to Kratsios, over 1 million drone owners have registered with the FAA, and commercial drone numbers are expected to increase dramatically by 2021.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said a successful applicant for the program should have a “well-defined framework” for managing flights and a “strong industry partner.”

Applicants will need to published a notice with the federal register, then file a notice of intent to the FAA withing 20 days. They would then have 57 days to complete their proposals. The agency will have 180 days to form an agreement with applicants.

If approved, applicants will be granted a waiver. The FAA will use testing data for policymaking.

“What we learn through testing operational concepts in these communities will be invaluable and give us clarity on rules that ensure safety and continued innovation,” Huerta said.

“We need greater clarity on how state and local governments want to be involved in this process,” Huerta said. “The new Drone Integration Pilot Program … will start providing that clarity.”

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