US transport secretary Chao details drone integration programme

On 2 November US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced further details of the Department’s new Drone Integration Pilot Program. US Department of Transportation officials have put on display a Federal Register notice laying out the timeframe, requirements, and goals of the new programme, which will pair local, state, and tribal entities with private sector players in the drone industry to develop and deploy new operational concepts that are not currently in widespread use.  The key first step in the programme is for government officials to complete a Notice of Intent, signifying their intention to complete a full programme application.

“The Drone pilot program will accelerate the safe integration of drones into our airspace by creating new partnerships between local governments, the FAA, and private drone operators,” said Secretary Chao. “These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections, and more, on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace.”

Applicants will have 20 days from the date of publication of the Notice in the Federal Register to complete a Notice of Intent, followed by the requirement that they complete an application through the FAA/UAS Portal within 57 days of the publication in the Federal Register. Within 180 days, initial programme applicants who receive approval could begin deploying drones under the limitations coordinated and agreed to with the FAA. The program will last for three years.

According to the Department the programme will help tackle the most significant challenges in integrating drones into the national airspace while reducing risks to public safety and security. The programme is designed to provide greater 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 USD82 billion and create up to 100,000 jobs.

“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, reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft, as well as local management of UAS operations subject to FAA oversight,” said the department. “Industries that could see immediate opportunities from the program include commerce, photography, emergency management, precision agriculture, and infrastructure inspections and monitoring.”

The Drone Pilot Program is the Department’s second major initiative leveraging new technologies and follows A Vision for Safety 2.0, which offers a path forward for the safe deployment of automated or self-driving vehicles.

After evaluating all the applications, the U.S. Department of Transportation will select a minimum of five partnerships. Full details of the Federal Register Notice and Application process can be found here.

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