What the Federal Register Notice Tells Us About the Drone Integration Pilot

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will launch the UAS Integration Pilot Program at an event held in Washington D.C. tomorrow – but the Federal Register Notice about the program has been published.  Here’s what the notice reveals about the details of the program.

The program calls for state, local and tribal governments to work with industry partners to apply to operate drone programs that may be beneficial for their communities, testing the programs and the integration of the drone operations into local airspace.  By allowing the state, local and tribal governments to apply, the program grants them control over the testing in their area.  Many stakeholders view the program as a test not only of drone technology but of the role of state, local and tribal governments in drone regulation.

The Program notice may offer a hint of the administration’s approval of the proposed Drone Innovation Act,which would grant state and local governments the right to enact drone regulations below 200 feet.  The DOT mirrors that view of regulation, proposing to: “solicit proposals from State, local, and tribal governments to test within their jurisdictions the integration of civil and public UAS operations into the NAS below 200 feet above ground level, or up to 400 feet above ground level if the Secretary determines that such an adjustment would be appropriate,” says the notice.

The notice does provide more information about the program than the summary released last week.

Who Will Get Selected – and Why?

The notice lays out the selection criteria.  Diversity is a primary factor: the DOT is looking for participants from various economic, geographic and climactic areas.  Additionally, they’re looking for a variety of types of operations and a variety of types of government.  Other criterial involve community support, commercial partners, compliance with regulations and government concerns, and how well the proposed operations fit in with the programs “policy objectives.”

The defined policy objectives for drone program are:

 

(A) promoting innovation and economic development;

(B) enhancing transportation safety;

(C) enhancing workplace safety;

(D) improving emergency response and search and rescue functions; and

(E) using radio spectrum efficiently and competitively.

Where Does the Data Go?

The UAS Integration Pilot Program is all about gathering data.  Data and feedback from the applicant entitities, their communities, the commercial partners involved and regulators are meant to guide future regulations.

The Federal Register Notice says that the data will be delivered to the FAA and NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) program.  DOT will also coordinate with Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies.  And while some stakeholders are working to implement drone programs, DHS may take the opportunity to do its own testing:

“In implementing the Program, the Secretary shall coordinate with the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security and the Attorney General to test counter-UAS capabilities, as well as platform and system-wide cybersecurity, to the extent appropriate and consistent with law.”

How Long Will the Pilot Last?
The pilot program is expected to last for 3 years, which would put it out to 2021 – past the promised completion date for federal drone integration.  Still, the program is a step forward in the complex process of integrating drones into the NAS for commercial purposes.

 



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