New FAA Program to Bolster Trump Administration’s Expanded Drone-Testing Plans

The FAA's UAS Integration Pilot Program is expected to let state and local governments oversee drone testing.

Last week, we reported on the White House’s efforts to push drone deliveries rapidly into the future. A program would be instated, which would allow local and state governments to gain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to finally test vital components of drone use like nighttime flights, beyond visual line of sight flights, and flights above crowds. It was only a week before that, that the FAA granted CNN a first-of-its-kind waiver to perform the latter, and it seems that Tuesday marked the moment when the FAA finally unveiled its blueprint for how this expanded testing is going to unfold.

As we all know, resolving any issues regarding nighttime drone operation, beyond visual line of sight flights, as well as over-head flights, is crucial if the U.S. ever wants to standardize drone deliveries. Beyond the visual line of sight flight, in particular, is a regulation in dire need of modification for companies such as Amazon that plan on nationwide drone deliveries. The current administration seems eager to resolve these issues. The FAA, thus far, has only granted waivers for this sort of testing on a very limited, case by case basis. This is all about to change, with the FAA’s announcement of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, which will hand over the responsibility of monitoring drone testing to state, local, and tribal governments. These will then serve as the main liaison with the FAA.

According to Geekwire, companies like Amazon would simply have to register as “interested parties” with the FAA, (which they can do right here).

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, during a briefing on the registration process on Tuesday, said, “This is truly an important milestone in aviation innovation. These partnerships will allow local communities to experiment with new technologies like package delivery, emergency drone inspections and so much more, on terms that work for them and in ways that support a unified and safe airspace.” 

If you’re a giant in the drone delivery industry, and this is somehow the first you’ve heard of this, you better hurry. According to Geekwire, this primary round of applications is open for less than three weeks. 

“After receiving all the applications, we’ll select at least five communities to participate in the program,” said FAA administrator Michael Huerta. “Each jurisdiction will be responsible for collecting usage, safety and community feedback data. We’ll use this information to help guide our drone integration efforts on a forward basis,” he added.

Amazon, for one, seems extremely pleased with this announcement. In an email to Geekwire, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, Gur Kimchi, said, “Amazon supports the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation.” He added, “At Amazon Prime Air, we’re focused on getting packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using the latest drone technology, and we look forward to working with the administration, states, and municipalities to make this a reality.” 

Amazon, of course, is at the forefront when it comes to expanding its business domestically via drones, and working together with the FAA and the government to do so. This is all very exciting to witness, as it certainly looks like this whole drone delivery myth has skewed closer toward reality in just a few months. Who knows what the next few months will bring? Stay tuned.