Trump to allow states to expand drone use

Trump to allow states to expand drone use
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The Trump administration is allowing state and local governments to significantly expand their drone operations, a step that is intended to accelerate the integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

President Trump on Wednesday signed a presidential memorandum directing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create a pilot program that allows localities to propose expanded drone operations that include flights over people, nighttime operations and flying beyond the visual line of sight — all of which are currently prohibited.

If approved, the FAA will grant the localities a waiver and use testing data from those operations to inform federal policymaking.


The push to delegate some federal authority over the U.S. airspace to state and local governments comes as drone use has exploded, with more than 1 million users registered with the FAA and the number of commercial drones expected to increase fivefold by 2021.

But the industry, which has the potential to create tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, has said that regulatory control over the national airspace has stifled innovation.

“America’s skies are changing,” Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told reporters during a press call.

“However, our aviation regulatory framework has not kept pace with this change, resulting in limited integration of [unmanned aircraft systems] into the national airspace system.”

The FAA will have one year to establish the pilot program, which will allow the agency to enter into agreements with state, local and tribal governments to transform their jurisdictions into “[unmanned aircraft systems] innovation zones” for testing novel drone operations.

Localities are being encouraged to partner with the private sector to propose a wide range of drone operations, such as allowing package deliveries, and the FAA will determine whether to accept them into the pilot program on a case-by-case basis.

Companies like Amazon and Google have been vying to use drones for commercial deliveries.

The program, which is slated to last three years but can be extended, will then collect testing data on the expanded drone operations and community participation, which could shape a future federal framework for unmanned aircraft systems.

“This program will open the skies for delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, support for emergency management operations, and surveys of crops for precision agriculture applications,” Kratsios said.

The FAA issued its first rule permitting small, routine drone flights last year, but the agency still prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, nighttime operations and flying beyond the visual line of sight. The FAA has been considering proposals to lift some of those restrictions.

While drone users can already apply for waivers from the rules, having the state or local government on board with the proposal may make it easier to win acceptance for new drone operations, though they could still run into opposition from consumer groups worried about privacy and safety.

“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,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Gingrich on Trump-McConnell feud: GOP 'better off' focusing on Democrats Trump rips McConnell in speech to Republicans MORE. “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.”

This story was updated at 4:27 p.m.