USDOT launches Drone Integration Pilot Program

October 25, 2017  - By
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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao has launched an initiative to safely test and validate advanced drone operations in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot 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, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) press release.

Prospective local government participants are asked to partner with the private sector to develop pilot proposals. After evaluating all of the applications,  USDOT will invite a minimum of five partnerships.

The department also will publish a Federal Register Notice with more details about how applications will be evaluated and how the program will work.

More about the program is available on the DOT website.

The program will help tackle the most significant challenges in integrating drones into the national airspace while reducing risks to public safety and security,  USDOT said. The program is designed to provide regulatory certainty and stability to local governments and communities, UAS owners and operators who are accepted into the program.

In less than a decade, the potential economic benefit of integrated unmanned aerial systems into the nation’s airspace is estimated to equal up to $82 billion and create up to 100,000 jobs, according to an economic report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).

The program will help the USDOT and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop a regulatory framework to:

  • 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.

“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,” Chao said. “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.”

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.

“Stakeholders will have the opportunity through this program to demonstrate how their innovative technological and operational solutions can address complex unmanned aircraft integration challenges,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “At the same time, the program recognizes the importance of community participation in meaningful discussions about balancing local and national interests related to integrating unmanned aircraft.”

About the Author:


Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006, and also is editor of GPS World’s sister website, Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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