President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to launch an initiative which will safely test and validate advanced operations for drones in partnership with state and local governments in select jurisdictions. According to the DOT, the results of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program will be used to speed up the safe assimilation of drones into national airspace, which will in turn showcase the benefits of this emerging technology in the U.S. economy.

In its press release, the DOT stated that this program “will help the USDOT and 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 DOT further stated that 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.”

Local governments are being encouraged to team up with the private sector to develop proposals to submit to the pilot program. Once the DOT has evaluated all of the applications, the department will invite a minimum of five partnerships to participate in the pilot. The DOT will release more information about how applicants can expect to be evaluated and how the program will work.

Since the issuance of the press release, industry reactions have been generally positive and the initiative is seen as an important step in the right direction for the drone industry.  Drone industry leaders have praised the promotion of collaboration between local governments and the community stakeholders. Not everybody agrees, however. One critic pointed out that the initiative does not sufficiently protect local control and the rights to privacy and property.