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With Test Program, Trump Moves to Relax Rules on Drones

With Test Program, Trump Moves to Relax Rules on Drones

Postby smix » Sat Oct 28, 2017 9:01 pm

With Test Program, Trump Moves to Relax Rules on Drones
US News & World Report

URL: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/20 ... ot-program
Category: Politics
Published: October 25, 2017

Description: A new presidential directive aims to explore additional freedoms for drone use in the U.S.
The regulatory code governing commercial drone use is about to lighten under President Donald Trump's administration, with the launch of a trial program that's likely to benefit companies like Google and Amazon and possibly complicate life at the Federal Aviation Administration. Trump on Wednesday signed a memorandum directing federal officials to work with state and local governments to establish designated testing zones for the use of unmanned drones. The pilot initiative, to be established by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in consultation with the FAA, represents a considerable departure from the rules and regulations that have to this point governed commercial drone use. And while it doesn't necessarily mean skies will darken across the country with Amazon and Domino's delivery drones in the immediate future, it's certainly a step in that direction. In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal, Michael Kratsios – a deputy assistant to the president at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy – acknowledged that "these regulations were put in place for good reasons," but hewed to the Trump deregulatory mantra in suggesting a "flexible" set of standards would better enable the U.S. "to keep pace" with future technological developments. "Less restrictive, more flexible regulations in other countries have led some of America's most innovative companies to pursue business opportunities abroad. Amazon is testing in the U.K.; Google's Project Wing is testing in Australia," Kratsios wrote. "In order to cultivate and sustain American ingenuity within the homeland and promote the creation of new jobs in the United States, the nation needs a regulatory framework that can encourage innovation while maintaining the safety of the airspace." Ethical and safety concerns erupted soon after unmanned drone technology took off, and the FAA long wrestled with how exactly to regulate the technology's use without completely stifling innovation. Last year under President Barack Obama, new regulations were unveiled that made it easier for drones weighing under 55 pounds to be used for commercial purposes, though operators still face various restrictions. The rules mandated, for example, that such drones could only be operated within the operator's line of sight. Trump's new memorandum is likely to lead to a relaxation of those policies in various places, as local governments would propose models for "civil and public" drone operations within their jurisdictions and federal authorities would be able to grant exemptions to existing rules if needed. According to the Department of Transportation, concepts expected to be considered for approval include nighttime drone flights, flights over people and package delivery. "Industries that could see immediate opportunities from the program include commerce, photography, emergency management, precision agriculture, and infrastructure inspections and monitoring," the department said in a release on the initiative. The Commercial Drone Alliance, which advocates for more freedom in operating unmanned aircraft to aid commercial businesses and humanitarian efforts, called the program "an important step in the right direction." "The Alliance is optimistic that the program will become a model for overcoming some of the hurdles keeping the full potential of commercial drones from being realized," the group said in a release. And although the delivery of groceries, pizza or products purchased on Amazon are often the first to come to mind when commercial drone use is discussed, many of those close to the industry believe the sky's the limit for the unmanned technology. Surveys of bridges, electrical towers and large buildings, for example, can be performed without putting human lives in direct jeopardy, Drones also can aid in disaster-relief efforts. "After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, unmanned aircraft systems – UAS for short, also known as drones – were deployed to inspect damage to land and property and to assist local, state and federal officials in response and recovery efforts," Kratsios wrote. "First responders, electric utilities, insurance companies, media organizations and government agencies all recognized the immense benefits of these new systems over manned aircraft for novel, low-cost, potentially life-saving applications." But Kratsios also acknowledged Trump's directive represents merely a "step" toward the future of unmanned aviation. State and local governments will need to work with drone companies and others in the private sector to figure out exactly which activities are appropriate and under what conditions. Nevada and North Dakota are among the states at the forefront of drone accessibility, and those in the industry broadly hope more communities will follow suit in embracing practical commercial drone use. "A pilot program in coordination with localities will allow us to test technology solutions that address concerns, generate data to inform policy and create partnerships that promote the use of drone technology to benefit communities," Lisa Malloy, a senior director at Intel's Global Policy Group, wrote Wednesday. "Congress should take this opportunity to build on existing progress and shape future [drone] regulatory activities. Together, policy makers and industry leaders can ensure the U.S. realizes the full benefits of the airborne revolution in drone technology."
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