Under a directive from President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched an initiative to safely test and validate advanced operations for drones in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions. Results from the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program will be used to accelerate safe integration of UAS into the national airspace and to realize the benefits of unmanned technology in the economy.

The program will help tackle 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, UAS owners, and operators who are accepted into the program. In less than a decade, the potential economic benefit of integrated UAS into the nation’s airspace is estimated to total as much as $82 billion and create as many as 100,000 jobs.

The program will help the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration (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.

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.”

Prospective local government participants should partner with the private sector to develop pilot proposals. After evaluating all of the applications, the U.S. Department of Transportation will invite a minimum of five partnerships. Full details of the Federal Register Notice and application process can be found at www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/uas_integration_pilot_program/splash.

Information provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation (www.transportation.gov).