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White House, U.S. DOT announce new pilot program to expedite the integration of drones into the national airspace system

In an U.S. Department of Transportation press release, the White House Administration announced the launch of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program. The Program implements a directive signed by President Trump, and the results will be used to accelerate the safe integration of UAS into the national airspace and to realize the benefits of unmanned technology in our economy.

"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," said Secretary Chao.

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. Industries that could see immediate opportunities from the program include commerce, photography, emergency management, precision agriculture, and infrastructure inspections and monitoring.

With the increase in the number of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones, a regulatory framework is needed that encourages innovation while ensuring airspace safety. Due to current safety restrictions, U.S. technology companies seeking to test and deploy commercial drones have reportedly done so overseas. For example, Google's Project Wing is testing drones in Australia, and Amazon is testing drone deliveries in the United Kingdom.

Under this pilot program, the DOT will enter into agreements with State, local, and tribal governments to establish innovation zones for testing complex UAS operations and to attempt different models for integrating drones into local airspace. Using existing Federal authorities, the program will accelerate testing of currently restricted UAS operations - such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights and flights over people.

This program is intended to open the opportunity for the 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. The pilot program will also allow testing of new UAS traffic management systems; the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft; technology to prevent collisions between drones and other aircraft; and, detection, tracking, and countering drones flying in restricted areas, which are needed to fully integrate UAS operations into the national airspace system.