Commercial drone experiments outsourced to cities, counties

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Local governments have a chance to jump into the drone development business, by invitation from none other than the Trump administration. An order signed by president Trump gives the Federal Aviation Administration three months to create a program that will allow local, state and tribal governments to propose unmanned aircraft system (UAS) pilot projects, in partnership with private companies, to see what might and might not be feasible to write into FAA regulations in the future.

The “presidential memorandum to the secretary of transportation” directs the department – and the FAA in particular – to…

Solicit proposals from State, local, and tribal governments to test within their jurisdictions the integration of civil and public UAS operations into the [national air space] 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…

[And] enter into agreements with the selected governments to establish the terms of their involvement in UAS operations within their jurisdictions, including their support for Federal enforcement responsibilities; describe the proposed UAS operations to be conducted; and identify the entities that will conduct such operations, including, if applicable, the governments themselves.

Proposals will be screened with the goal of authorising programs in a wide variety of geographic, economic and technological circumstances, and using a diverse range of public-private partnership models. The memo calls out five policy objectives:

  1. Promoting innovation and economic development.
  2. Enhancing transportation safety.
  3. Enhancing workplace safety.
  4. Improving emergency response and search and rescue functions.
  5. Using radio spectrum efficiently and competitively.

The marquee application is package delivery – Amazon and Google are getting a lot of buzz around that – but real world proposals are likely to be more, um, down to Earth. Agricultural technology applications for drones are rapidly growing, and rural communities interested in pursuing projects would have a couple of advantages: they usually can respond to opportunities faster than urban cities, and lower population density simplifies the technical and regulatory challenges.